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Left: WUDPAC Class of 2022 fellow Jess Ortegon utilized both personal and lab safety equipment while conducting testing on arsenic detection kits over the summer. They worked in a chemical hood and wore a respirator, goggles, gloves, and a lab coat to protect themself from potential hazards during testing. These hazards included the book they were using for testing, which was covered in cloth made with emerald green, an arsenic-containing pigment. Right: Some personal protective equipment (PPE) that conservators may use: a half mask respirator, splash goggles, nitrile gloves, and a lab coat. These all serve to protect from different hazards in a conservation lab such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents, dust and particulates, and collection items that may contain toxic materials such as lead paint or pesticides. (Images: Jess Ortegon)
When people think about art conservation, they often think about the treatment and care of collections: removing degraded varnish from a painting, rehousing a set of library books, or ensuring a storage environment is stable. But what about the health and safety of the conservators, staff, and patrons working with collections? For one week this summer, third-year fellow Jess Ortegon and second-year fellow Sarah Freshnock participated in the “Art and Theater Safety" course, focusing on workplace hazards found in art and theater (and conservation!) spaces.
The course was taught by Monona Rossol, an Industrial Hygienist, chemist, and artist. She has been teaching courses covering safety in the arts and theater for 35 years, and has given health and safety lectures to WUDPAC students in the past. During her career, Rossol has actively pursued safe working environments for herself, her colleagues, and her clients.
The week-long course started with the general chemistry and compositions of hazardous chemicals. Rossol walked the class through materials regulations for items such as clays, makeup and hair products, spray foams, paints, and solvents, some of which are found both in the workplace and at home. Included in the lectures were discussions on regulations from institutions such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), of which ventilation, personal protective equipment, and hazardous waste storage were highlighted. Rossol also discussed workplace fire safety, building regulations, and new information on what we can do to protect ourselves during the ongoing pandemic.
At the end of the course, participants gave a brief presentation on something in their work or workplace related art and theater safety. Students in Rossol's class come from a wide array of professions, and presentations varied from mold remediation to managing health and safety resources for new employees. All shared the same desire to provide safe working environments, and the discussions held by the group were invaluable.
As conservation students who work with art and artist materials, both Jess and Sarah found the course especially compelling. With the hopes of working as a consultant for small institutions, Sarah found that understanding common safety hazards within arts environments is key when assessing collections areas. Jess found the course pertinent to their current third-year research project, which focuses on the hazards of book edges decorated with vermilion pigment, and the health and safety precautions that should be taken to protect conservators, librarians, and patrons alike.
(Our thanks to Jess Ortegon and Sarah Freshnock for sharing their experiences in this course.)
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