Vermilion Redsby George O'Hanlon
Holbein does not produce vermilion pigment, although they may offer genuine vermilion in oil paint (I have not checked on their paint selection).
Natural Pigments offers both genuine vermilion powdered pigment made using the dry process and the native mineral cinnabar. I had both of these pigments analyzed and they consist of nearly pure red mercuric sulfide (there are small amounts of other minerals in the native cinnabar). Natural Pigments makes it own cinnabar using ore from a mine in Ukraine.
An independent laboratory tested the pigments for soluble mercury and lead, according to method ASTM D5517-03 in which a sample is placed in a dilute solution of hydrochloric acid, which is the method accepted for simulating acids found in the human stomach and the principal route of entry of these metals (they are not absorbed through the skin).
The test results are less than 20 µg (micrograms) of soluble metal mercury per gram of pigment. The pigments did not contain any measurable amount of lead. In consultation with a toxicologist at Duke University, he supplied the acceptable levels for soluble metals in pigments before hazardous labeling is required:
Mercury 76 µg/g
Lead 7 µg/g
Of course, as with any dry powder pigment, a NIOSH-certified dust mask should be worn when working with dry powder pigments to avoid exposure to dust particles that can irritate the lungs. The above test results do not mean that proper protection should not be worn when working with powder pigments (or any powders for that matter). Also, special precautions should be observed when disposing of any substance containing mercury.