|Video: "Art Safety: A Six Step Process" (Link to Yale University)|
|Safety Guide for Art Studios|
Hazards in the visual arts are found in almost all media.
Chemical hazards in particular are very common, since art materials can contain a wide variety of toxic ingredients. These include solvents in paints, inks, thinners and paint removers; heavy metals like lead and cadmium in pigments, pottery glazes, copper enamels and silver solders; dusts like silica and asbestos in clays, talcs and glazes; dyes; acids and alkalis in dyeing assistants, intaglio etches, and pickling baths; and many more.
Depending on the type of art materials used, artists can develop the same types of occupational diseases as industrial workers. Studies have shown that people who work with hazardous art chemicals can develop dermatitis, lead poisoning, silicosis, liver and kidney damage, nerve damage, reproductive problems, carbon monoxide poisoning, cancer and other ailments. The risk of chemical hazards is directly linked to the following factors:
- Duration and frequency of exposure
- Chemical toxicity
- Quantity of chemical exposed to
Artists are exposed to graphic media hazards through skin contact, inhalation and ingestion, and must take every precaution whenever working with certain graphic media materials:
- Read and understand the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) prior to using any art media.
- Wear protective clothing and equipment as recommended in the MSDS.
- Whenever possible, substitute nontoxic or less toxic solvents and chemicals for hazardous materials.
- Never eat, drink or smoke when working with art chemicals/materials.
Solvents - Solvents are used to dissolve oils, resins, varnishes and inks. They are also used to remove paint and lacquer. Due to their common usage, solvents are one of the most underrated exposure hazards. Most organic solvents are poisonous if swallowed or inhaled in sufficient quantities. They also cause dermatitis (or skin inflammation) and narcosis (a numbing, drowsiness or unconsciousness).
Always use the least toxic solvent possible. Denatured or isopropyl alcohol, acetone and odorless mineral spirits are less toxic than solvents such as xylene or ethylene.
Aerosol Sprays - Aerosol sprays, such as fixatives, spray paint and spray adhesives are extremely dangerous if the fine mists produced by these products are inhaled. Air brushes and spray guns are equally hazardous. Use aerosol sprays in a well-ventilated area and wear a a respirator with a filter cartridge appropriate for the hazard. Contact the Director of EH&S for assistance.
Corrosives - The acids and alkalis used in ceramics, photo chemicals, paint removers and similar materials can be very corrosive to the skin, eyes, respiratory system and gastrointestinal system. Likewise, the acids and alkalis used to etch metals and glass can be very dangerous. Strong acids, such as hydrochloric, sulfuric, nitric and perchloric acid, require special handling as outlined in the MSDS. Alkalis, such as caustic potash, caustic soda, quicklime and unslaked lime also require special treatment. Remember, because of the strong thermal reaction, always add acid to water, not water to acid.
Paints and Pigments - Many paints and color pigments contain hazardous heavy metals, such as lead, chromium, cadmium and barium. As previously mentioned, these heavy metals can cause neurological, respiratory and reproductive damage. The table below outlines common paint pigments and their toxic metal component:
Pigment (Paint or Ink Name)
|Antimony||True Naples Yellow|
|Cadmium||All Cadmium Pigments|
Cadmium Vermilion Red
Important Note: Most paper, rags and other pigment and solvent contaminated debris, paint thinners, etc.) generated in the art studio is considered "Hazardous Waste" by the EPA and Connecticut DEP, and as such must be collected and disposed of appropriately. As the generator of such waste, you are responsible for ensuring that the proper disposal procedures are followed. Please refer to the Hazardous Waste Management Plan for guidance on how to conduct a "waste determination" and to properly manage and dispose of this waste. Contact the Director of EH&S at ext. 2252 for assistance.
Photography - Many of the chemicals used for photographic processing are corrosive, and can cause severe skin and respiratory problems. The greatest hazards associated with photography include the preparation and use of concentrated chemical solutions. Never touch chemical powders or solutions with unprotected hands. In addition, take care not to stir up and inhale chemical dusts. Always ensure that the darkroom ventilation system is operating properly whenever you are working with photographic chemicals. The following are common photographic chemicals and their hazards:
- Developer: May cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
- Stop-bath: May cause burns and throat irritation.
- Fixer: Highly irritating to lungs.
- Intensifier: Very corrosive and may cause lung cancer.
- Reducer: Contact with heat, concentrated acids, or ultraviolet radiation produces poisonous gas.
- Toners: Highly toxic.
- Hardeners and stabilizers: Often contain formaldehyde which is poisonous, a skin irritant, and a known carcinogen.
Plastics, Acrylics, Epoxy Resins - Plastic hazards result from making plastic and working with finished plastic. The greatest hazards associated with making plastic come from the monomers, solvents, fillers, catalysts and hardeners that are used. The hazards involved with finished plastics result mainly from the methods used to work the plastic. For example, overheating or burning plastic produces toxic gases. Polishing, sanding, and sawing plastic produces harmful dusts.
Certain types of plastics, such as acrylics and epoxy resins, are also hazardous. The components in acrylic, for example, include irritants, explosives and flammables. The main hazard associated with acrylic compounds, however, is inhalation. Always maintain good ventilation when working with acrylic.
The epoxy resins used in laminating, casting, glues, and lacquer coatings, are also skin irritants, sensitizers, and some are suspected cancer-causing agents. Avoid skin contact and inhalation when working with epoxy resins.
Pottery and Ceramics - Pottery clay contains silicates that can be hazardous if inhaled. Many low-fire clays and slip-casting clays also contain talc, which may be contaminated with asbestos. Long-term inhalation of asbestos can cause cancer and respiratory diseases. When mixing clay dust or breaking up dry grog, use exhaust ventilation and/or wear an appropriate particulate dust respirator.
Pottery glazes also contain free silica, including flint, feldspar and talc. Wear a particulate dust respirator when mixing or spraying glazes. Some glazes also contain toxic metals such as cadmium, lead or cobalt. Be sure to dispose of glazes that contain toxic ingredients as "Hazardous Waste."
Toxic fumes and gases are often produced during the firing process. Ensure that all kilns are properly ventilated. In addition, use infrared goggles or a shield to look in the kiln peephole. Proper eye protection will help prevent cataracts.
Welding - There are numerous hazards associated with welding, such as burns, eye damage from ultra violet rays and inhalation of toxic fumes generated during the welding process:
- Manganese - From carbon steel or heavy production welding of other steel can cause nerve system damage resulting in Parkinson's Disease.
- Nickel - From nickel alloy electrodes, nickel plating and cryogenic steel, Nickel, like Chromium VI, is a suspect cancer causing agent.
- Lead - Most steels have some lead, higher levels in maraging steel and from lead paint on existing metal surfaces. Lead damages muscles, bone and nerves; especially dangerous to welders’ families with children, ages 6 or under.
- Copper - Welding wires (MIG), Bronze, Copper Coating, and Copper Brazing, Brass - Lung irritation.
- Zinc - Zinc plated metal, galvanized metals can cause "Metal Fume Fever" (flu-like symptoms.)
- Ozone - Generated during MIG & TIG welding and aluminum welding. Can cause throat irritation and eye, nose and lung damage.
If you’re welding or cutting surfaces coated with paint, solvents, plastics and other coatings, there is a likelihood of exposure to decomposition products, such as oxides of nitrogen, phosgene, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. It is imperative that proper ventilation be used for all welding processes.
Lastly, compressed gas cylinders can be damaged and explode if not properly protected.
Woodworking - The hazards associated with woodworking include physical hazards, sawdust inhalation, exposure to toxic solvents and adhesives, and excessive noise from woodworking tools. Long term inhalation of sawdust can cause chronic respiratory diseases. Depending on the type of wood, short-term sawdust inhalation may also produce allergic reactions. Toxic preservatives, such as arsenic compounds and creosote, may cause cancer and reproductive problems. Epoxy resins and solvent-based adhesives also pose potential hazards. Use dust collectors around woodworking machines, ensure proper ventilation, and wear personal protective equipment, as appropriate.