One of the most powerful arguments given during the ‘Hidden Hazards In The Arts’ presentation, came at the end of the workshop. On October 22nd, the Fremont Arts Council hosted this presentation by Dave Waddell and Donna Galstad of the King County Hazardous Waste Management Program, in the Powerhouse. Attendees were provided with plenty of helpful information, and strong statements on avoiding (or carefully disposing of) toxic chemicals in common use in professional art studios.
Waddell and Galstad can explain, in extremely enlightening detail, why artists must consider, and try to mitigate, the risks they run with many art products. Yet, they also clearly illuminated that the danger isn’t always limited to the artist and/or their studio space (or both, if the artist is at work when the studio catches fire and/or blows up.)
The ‘Hidden Hazards In The Arts’ presentation highlights the routine exposure to artists from toxic art supplies, and how children and/or pets can also be exposed when artists unknowingly carry toxins out of the studio on the soles of shoes, clothing, and the skin – and into their homes and public areas.
However, they also referenced recent research on epi-genetics, and the possible risk exposure to certain chemicals can have on future children, and grandchildren, of the person who had contact. Research has begun on ways some chemicals may increase the genetic possibility of conditions such as autism and celiac disease, although the ways toxic substances can cause elemental damage has long been proven.
Hidden In Plain Sight
Toxic substances can be found in most artist studios, as Waddell and Galstad know first-hand. They conduct Technical Assistant Visits, available to all professional artists for free, and have found an amazing number of common errors – and lack of information – in studios they review.
During the presentation, Waddell explained that linseed oil, a common cleaner, can cause used rags to spontaneously combust. Citrus oil, which may sound more ‘natural’, is highly flammable. Lacquer thinner, Waddell described as “a mixture of nearly every chemical,” is also highly flammable, and can cause reproductive harm. The presentation also showed a ‘green-washed’ label – a product marketed as ‘green’ and ‘natural’ while actually containing highly toxic ingredients.
Some products can cause damage right away, while others can evoke a less noticeable response – coughing, skin irritation, vomiting, etc. – that can worsen with time. Still other chemicals may not cause a response in the user the first time, or second time or even the third. However, prolonged exposure to these ‘sensitizers’ – chemicals that sensitize the user with each exposure – can eventually cause a dramatic physiological response. Bee sting venom is a sensitizer, and some bee sting victims may not react to the first sting – and need a life-restoring shot of epinephrine to survive the fifth or sixth.
Identify Individual Hazards
‘Are we being dosed?’ the ‘Hidden Hazards…’ presentation asks, and Waddell’s answer is, “yes, we’re constantly being dosed. Nearly all of us have small traces of multiple chemicals,” in our systems. Fortunately, “your system is good at flushing out toxins,” Waddell explained, and at low levels exposure many kinds of chemicals will simply be flushed out.
Better, safer alternatives and/or use of toxic substances already exist, and Galstad and Waddell want to help professional artists find these options. For instance, many products now have a bright yellow and black ‘California Prop65’ sticker. This must be carried by all products ‘known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.’ With awareness, artists can seek less toxic versions of products they plan to use.
Safer products also can carry an AP or CP sticker, although any ‘Caution’ note on a product should still be carefully followed – and look beyond the words ‘non-toxic.’ “Less toxic is not the same as non-toxic,” Waddell cautioned. “It comes down to knowing what you are working with,” Waddell explained.
Waddell or Galstad are willing to visit any business (home based or store front) to conduct a Technical Assistant Visit. This way they can offer personalized suggestions for alternatives, and identify any potential use hazards.
The visits are not punitive. While at the Powerhouse, giving this presentation, Galstad snooped around some of the vast amounts of art supplies stored on-hand. She didn’t condemn the arts organization for anything. Instead, she offered helpful advice – on having functional fire extinguishers.
A Cost Analysis
It is in every artist’s best interests to get a Technical Assistant Visit. Waddell can speak very entertainingly about horrible examples he’s encountered while doing visits. Yet, even the non-horrible chemical storage or use can cause long-term damage daily – to artists generally without adequate health insurance or a long-term plan for health care.
During a visit, Waddell and Galstad can recommend simple solutions for being safer, such as wearing ‘studio clothes’ (including shoes) that can be left behind in the work space, to avoid exposing Junior or Fido to toxic art products. Gloves, masks and eye protection can save lives, in the short-term and long-term.
Vouchers, for purchasing proper safety gear, disposing of hazardous waste, safer substitutes, and other preventative measures are available through the Hazardous Waste program – for businesses that undergo a Technical Assistant Visit. For a visit, call 206/263-3069.
For those who want to hear this presentation directly, Galstad said, “we are begging for audiences.” Any group of artists, and/or employees of a business using art products, can schedule a workshop – on the general ‘Hidden Hazards In the Arts’ or on a specific medium – by contacting Galstad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Waddell at email@example.com
Remember, this may not only concern safety, and health, for our artists. Their families, friends and neighbors can be kept free from unnecessary exposures as well. If you know an artist, or art business, that could benefit from identifying ‘Hidden Hazards,’ share a few words on this program, today!
- Safer Art For All
- by Kirby Lindsay, August 23, 2010
- Learn To Limit Toxins in Your Home
- by Kirby Lindsay, April 25, 2011
©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.