The visual arts produce a wide range of potential environmental problems and raise a number of public health issues. The visual arts use a broad range of chemicals and techniques which can create air and water pollution problems similar to that of the comparable industrial processes, only on a much smaller scale.
Hazardous waste produced by artists can include: (1) toxic and extremely toxic wastes, including solvents, lead compounds, chromates and cyanide solutions; (2) flammable waste, including flammable and combustible liquids (e.g., rags soaked with oil and turpentine), oxidizing substances such as potassium chlorate and dichromates, and ignitable compressed gases; (3) corrosive waste, including acids with a pH less than 2 and alkalis with a pH greater than 12; and (4) reactive wastes, such as organic peroxides, cyanide solutions and sulphide solutions. Artists and artisans are less likely, however, to know how to dispose of this waste or even to know what is hazardous. The most common method of waste disposal for artists is pouring down the sink or onto the ground, tossing in the garbage or evaporation. Although the individual amounts of pollutants are small, cumulatively they can result in significant pollution.
In the United States and Canada and many other countries, artists working in their homes are usually exempted from industrial hazardous waste regulations under a household hazardous waste exemption. Many localities, however, do provide special household hazardous waste days when households can bring their hazardous waste to a central site for collection. However, even in countries which do regulate artists as small businesses, there is little enforcement of hazardous waste regulations for these cottage industries.
Types of waste management methods available include many of the same ones used by industry, including source reduction, waste separation and concentration, recycling, energy and material recovery, incineration or treatment, and secure land disposal. Some of these methods are more available to artists than others.
The best way of managing hazardous waste is to actually eliminate or minimize its production by substituting materials which are less toxic—for example, using lead-free glazes instead of leaded glazes in pottery and enamelling, and using water-based screen printing inks and other coating materials instead of solvent-based ones.
Separating hazardous materials from non-hazardous materials—for example, separating solvent-based paints and water-based paints—can be a simple method to reduce the amount of hazardous waste and prevent it from contaminating regular garbage.
Traditional industrial methods of concentration, such as evaporation of large volumes of photographic wastes, are usually not feasible for artists.
Recycling can involve the reusing of materials (such as solvents used for oil painting cleanup) by the individual, or the passing of unwanted materials to someone else who can use them. Large printmaking facilities, which generate many solvent- or oil-soaked rags, can contract for laundering and reuse them.
Treatment can involve several processes. The most common one used by artists is neutralization of acids or alkaline solutions. Incineration is usually restricted to burning wood dust. Evaporation of solvents is also commonly done. This reduces the amount of hazardous waste potentially contaminating water supplies, although it does contaminate the atmosphere to some degree.
The least favourable option is secure land disposal in a proper hazardous waste disposal site. This is usually not a viable option for artists, especially in developing countries.
A public health issue that is common to many of the visual arts is the problem of the exposure of children to toxic chemicals found in many art materials, including those intended for use by children. Examples include solvents in permanent felt-tip markers and lead in ceramic glazes. Children and other family members can be exposed to hazardous substances and conditions in the home.
A widespread problem in many countries is lead poisoning, including fatalities from cooking and storing food in containers that have been made with lead-containing pottery glazes. In the commercial industry, the problem of lead leaching from glazed pottery has been mostly eliminated through government regulations and good quality control. The World Health Organization has standards for lead and cadmium leaching from pottery intended for food and drink use. The cost of the testing required, however, is not feasible for craft potters, and therefore craft potters should use only lead-free glazes for food and drink containers.
Performing and Media Arts
Theatres, scenery shops and motion picture and television production areas also can produce hazardous waste, since they use many of the same chemicals as are used in the visual arts. The same solutions apply. In particular, the widespread shift from solvent-based paints to water-based paints has greatly decreased the amount of solvent pollution.
One of the main public health issues for theatres (and other places of public assembly) is fire safety. Many theatres and other performance spaces, especially small, non-commercial ones, do not meet applicable fire codes and are dangerously overcrowded. There have been many disastrous fires with numerous fatalities in the performing arts. The use of fogs and smokes for special effects in theatre and opera can also pose the risk of asthma attacks in asthmatic audience members in the front of the theatre if the building does not have adequate exhaust ventilation to prevent the fog or smoke from affecting the audience.
Entertainment industries such as amusement and theme parks can face all the solid waste and other pollution problems of a small town. Zoos, circuses and other types of entertainment involving animals can have many of the same pollution problems as livestock raising, but on a smaller scale.
A public health concern at all entertainment events where food is sold is the possibility of developing salmonella poisoning, hepatitis or other diseases if there are not adequate public health controls.
Crowd control is another major public health concern in many large entertainment events, such as certain types of popular concerts and sports events. Widespread use of drugs and alcohol, overcrowding, allowing extensive standing room (festival seating) and lack of adequate preplanning have led to many incidents involving riots and panic, with resulting multiple injuries and fatalities. In addition, lack of adequate construction standards has caused fires and collapses of seating areas in several countries. There is a need for better regulations and provision of proper crowd control measures in these situations.
Visitors to parks and zoos can also present hazards to themselves. There have been many incidents where zoo visitors have been maimed or killed after entering animal enclosures. Visitors who get too close to wild animals in the parks have also experienced attacks, many of which have been fatal. The problems of inexperienced parks visitors getting lost, caught in storms, or falling from mountains is also a constant public health risk which can use up extensive resources for rescue.
The sex industry, especially prostitution, is particularly infamous for the possibility of patrons being robbed and possibly contracting sexually transmitted diseases. This is particularly true in countries where prostitution is not legally controlled. Criminal activities are often associated with prostitution.