Art Hazards

Home >> Art Hazards



Protecting Your Lungs

Avoid inhaling hazardous chemicals

Many art materials contain toxic ingredients. There are many ways artists can reduce their risks from inhaling these chemicals.

  • Eliminate the use of hazardous art products.
  • Substitute safer choices for more hazardous art products.
  • Avoid processes that produce vapors, mists, dusts, fumes or smoke that could be inhaled.
  • Use a ventilation system to remove hazardous air contaminants.

Keep the air in your studio clean

Ventilation reduces your exposures to airborne toxic chemicals or flammable vapors by moving contaminated air away from you and replacing it with clean air.

There are two types of ventilation:

Dilution ventilation reduces contaminated air in your studio by blowing in fresh air and exhausting some of the dirty air outside. Opening a window is not enough to prevent you from inhaling contaminated air.

Local exhaust ventilation captures contaminated air near where it was created and sucks it outside.

Dilution ventilation

Your studio needs fresh air moving through it at a rate that pulls toxins out before you breathe them. Dilution ventilation draws contaminated air away from you with an exhaust fan in a wall or window. Box fans work best when they fill the exterior window they’re placed in. You must have a source of fresh air, like another open window or door, to replace it.

Using a fan to draw contaminants outside usually works for

  • Acrylic, oil, watercolor, chalk, pastel and encaustic painting
  • Sculpting, woodworking and modeling activities that do not create dust
  • Relief and other printmaking that doesn’t use flammable solvents or acids
  • Dyeing with liquid dyes
  • Gluing with water-based glues and pastes like Modge Podge or Elmer's White Glue
  • Working with small amounts of hand-applied adhesives and glues
  • Working with wet clay and glazes in ceramics
  • Wet grinding glass or metal
  • Papermaking
  • Black and white photo developing

Local exhaust ventilation

You need local exhaust ventilation when you work with toxic, corrosive or flammable chemicals. You also need it if your art process creates toxic smoke, vapors, mists, dust or fumes. A source of fresh replacement air must be provided for the studio.

Local exhaust ventilation is usually required for

  • Dusts created from power sanding, grinding and abrasive blasting
  • Dusts from dry mixing clays, glazes, dyes and photo developers
  • Fumes from metal soldering, casting and brazing
  • Fumes from ceramic firing and foundry furnaces
  • Solvent vapors from cleaning intaglio plates and mists from spray painting
  • Acid vapors from applying black patina, pickling baths and acid etching
  • Vapors from electroplating, color photoprocessing and plastic resin casting

Look for these features in a local exhaust system:

  • A hood or opening that captures contaminants where they are created
  • Ducts that move the airborne pollutants through the system
  • A fan that moves the air through the system and exhausts it outdoors

Sometimes a particle filter is added to catch the pollutants before they’re sucked outdoors.
The design and troubleshooting of local exhaust ventilation systems should be done in consultation with a qualified ventilation engineer or company specializing in this field. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries provides information on troubleshooting ventilation systems and a list of companies that provide industrial ventilation services.

Find out how you can get financial help to purchase a ventilation system.

Clean your studio regularly to control toxic dusts

Toxic pigment dusts can collect in the studio. Moving through the studio can stir up these dusts, which you may then breathe in. Here are some ways you can reduce your exposure to toxic dusts:

  • Design your studio for easy mopping and cleaning by sealing the floor and counters.
  • Vacuum the floor instead of sweeping. Use a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter to remove dusts before mopping.
  • Mop the floors and wet wipe your tables after working
  • Always wash your hands after handling toxic materials