A former New York City junior high school art teacher, sued the NYC Board of Education and the City of New York claiming inadequate ventilation in her classroom caused brain damage from silk screen printing between 1981 and 1985. The lawsuit was just settled for over half a million dollars, and the client was able to sue the NYC Board of Education and the City of New York because NYC teachers are not covered by workers' compensation.
The teacher had been teaching silk screen printing with solvent-based inks in a room without any ventilation, and many of the windows nailed shut. A standing fan was finally provided in 1984 after repeated complaints about lack of ventilation. This, however, was not adequate ventilation since it doesn't exhaust the contaminated air, but just stirs it around. Her symptoms included loss of sensation in hands and feet, neurological and personality changes, memory loss, inability to concentrate, confusion, problems with manual dexterity - all symptoms of brain damage associated with high exposures to the solvents found in these silk screen printing inks.
The Center for Safety in the Arts recommends against silk screen printing with solvent-based inks in public schools because of the high hazard associated with many students doing printing at the same time. Instead, we recommend using water-based inks with either paper stencils or photostencils, thus eliminating the solvent exposure.
Art Hazard News, Volume 11, No. 9, 1988
This article was originally printed for Art Hazard News, © copyright Center for Safety in the Arts 1988. It appears on nontoxicprint courtesy of the Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago, who have curated a collection of these articles from their archive which are still relevant to artists today.