Natural Parenting

Dangerous Chemical in Dry Erase Markers

mommy greenest safe dry erase markersRemember chalk? Teachers hated it because it got all over their hands and clothes, and extended inhalation could trigger asthma. But schools may have a bigger problem in the works: Now ubiquitous in classrooms, many dry erase markers contain a chemical linked to serious health problems. What’s the solution? Learn how to identify this dangerous chemical, and make safer choices for the white board. 

Dry erase markers contain a chemical linked to serious health problems. Learn how to identify it and make safer choices for the white board. Many dry erase markers contain a toxic soup of ingredients, but the chemical you want to watch out for most is methyl isobutyl ketone, also known as 2-Butanone. The Environmental Protection Agency cautions that exposure can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and is associated with neurological, liver, kidney and respiratory problems.  And information from Princeton University warns of central nervous system depression, characterized by headaches, dizziness and nausea, among other problems, which in advanced stages can cause death from respiratory failure.

Obviously, I don’t think teachers aren’t going to die from using dry erase markers. But after learning that the maximum recommended safe exposure to 2-Butanone is less than 15 minutes during an eight-hour day, I am concerned. Teachers using these markers are experiencing much higher-than-recommended exposures—as are students who are using or sitting close to the white board.

What’s a chalk-hating mama to do? Gift your teachers with markers that are free of toxic chemicals like 2-Butanone. I found these Modern-Twist Markers on Amazon, and confirmed their non-toxic status. Not only are they free of toxic chemicals, but at $9 for six, they’re a pretty good buy, too!

Photo: Modern-Twist


  • Anne

    Myself and my daughter suffers a lot after being exposed to expo dry erase at school. It is getting worse and nobody wants to believe me. I stopped substitute teaching due to this but my daughter goes to school and has to suffer through this everyday. It is hard. She gets headaches, ear aches sore throat and coughs.
    Why are schools going on using these smelly/scented/odor markers really. I have tested it and I know it is what is causing these complications. Can we join hands please and say something to the schools please?

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      OH I am so sorry Anne — that sounds horrible! If they insist on using them, is it possible for her to sit near an open window? Ugh. Maybe you could bring the less toxic markers to the teacher as a gift so that they use them in your daughter’s classroom? Please keep me posted!!!

      • Rachel Sarnoff

        I would have to look, but are you able to look at ingredients on what’s existing, possibly? I realize this article is pretty old — but the issue is still real! Thanks for reading and please let me know what you find so we can share it here.

  • Lexus Brookr

    Well I’m writing to confirm the toxic Expo Markers, on the label it is printed to use in highly ventilated areas. I have been experiencing respiratory issues, headache, shortness of breath, tightness in my head, dizziness and confusion. While in class feeling like I’m having a stroke (slur words). When I left o go home suddenly I would feel a little relief but it got worse as I used the markers and after a 4 day weekend and then returning to class using the markers I finally connected the dots to the Expo Markers we’re making me deadly ill. For those who are sensitive, has asthma, or respiratory issues please be aware.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Oh no! I am so sorry you experienced this and SO GLAD you figured it out. Definitely keep those windows open and/or see if you can switch to another way of sharing information with your class. Teachers are a precious resource we need to better protect you guys! 🙂 Thank you for sharing this!

      • Balaka B. Ghosal

        Yes, using markers and especially sharpie permanent markers in closed spaces make students and teachers a bit dizzy. In the US, the schools are all airconditioned. So teachers can’t open windows. They are sealed peepholes only.
        The teachers are not aware mostly. I’ve seen in my teaching years a lot of aerosol sprays being used to freshen up the rooms, especially after recess. I soon switched to essential oil diffusers. It’s too subtle, softly wafting around in the room and didn’t give the instantaneous satiation of a strong spray mist. Even my colleagues thought sometimes that I am trying to be cheap by skipping the aerosol investment. Haha.
        My explaining didn’t help much.

        • Rachel Sarnoff

          Love this solution though! Hopefully when we go back to classrooms your colleagues will appreciate the essential oils!

  • Kelly Czarnecki

    I thank you for this post! It has helped me understand why I’ve been experiencing increased mental confusion (often times can be severe) during my teaching career. Many classrooms use these markers as a means for practice during lessons. Meaning EVERY student has a board and a marker. Recently, I purchased an air quality tester and placed it in my classroom. In the morning, it read “FRESH”; but by the afternoon, that reading increased so much that it changed to “UNQUALIFIED”. As soon as I saw this, I opened up my classroom windows, and within 20 mins, the air was reading “FRESH” again. I know now this is directly due to the use of white board markers (whole class). Your blog has also explained A LOT! So, thank you! I will make some changes immediately!

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Oh Kelly I am so glad this was helpful! And that you have windows that open — and that you use them! Thanks for commenting, and for taking action. AND for teaching our children, which is a gift to everyone. You truly made my day today 🙂

  • Lori Root

    are the expo brand non-toxic actually non-toxic… and should children be using their hands to wipe of the boards…..have seen it in my classroom many times and want to be armed with facts before I go off on a rant about it to them….thanks.

  • Terry

    I’m gonna have to check into these
    I make kids toys, animals and cars,trucks,planes….
    And I dislike spray paints and clear coats from the aerosol cans, and my best sellers are the animals and cars made then colored with markers because they look old after. But I don’t like the idea of sharpies or markers that I don’t know are safe for kids. And it seems pointless to use the beeswax combo over possibly toxic markers for the finish.

    I look forward to checking these out

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      It’s an exaggeration, but still–we should be using safer products everywhere, especially in schools! Thanks for commenting, Laura 🙂

  • Emily

    My daughter has a whiteboard on one side of her easel. She discovered the other day that a regular washable marker is *great* for drawing on it, especially when the marker doesn’t belong to her. Luckily, I found out that the washable marker (surprise) washes off quite easily with a damp cloth. I’m not sure if the ink in your standard Crayola marker is all that good for you, or how long one would last if used on a white board, but here’s another idea for folks who don’t want to go out and buy a specialized product/one that kids perhaps shouldn’t use on paper (?). I didn’t know about non-toxic whiteboard markers, though–thanks for sharing that!

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Good tip, Emily! I have noticed that there is a sort of phantom stain when my daughter uses regular markers. But I have gotten it out with vinegar, so there’s that 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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