Volume 13, Number 3, Sept 1991, p.26

Zora's Column

by Zora Sweet Pinney

ZORA'S COLUMN in the May 1991 WAAC Newsletter was titled, "Comments on The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide by Monona Rossol--or--Rushing into the Arms of Panic?" After the publication of that article, Monona Rossol and Zora Pinney exchanged the following letters.

Dear Zora:

Regarding your article in the May, 1991 WAAC Newsletter, which discusses my book, I disagree with your view about the lack of precautions. There are whole chapters on General Precautions, Ventilation, and Respiratory Protection. In addition, the second half of the book has long lists of precautions for the specific materials covered in each chapter.

You lump me in your review with "anti-cadmium freaks," but if you read the precautionary material, you would see that I carefully explain that a substance first must get into your body to be hazardous. All the routes of entry into the body are discussed. Intelligent readers (you see, I do not assume artists are unintelligent) will conclude that if they follow the precautions listed, they are not even exposed to cadmium pigments by using premixed paints. Solid substances, such as cadmium, cannot jump out of the paint at them.

All the hairy hazards of cadmium are listed in my charts to assist those artists who choose not to follow the precautions. These artists may indeed be exposed to cadmium dusts or fumes if they sand, air brush or heat cadmium paints, practice poor hygiene, and so on.

Regarding the ASTM omission, I agree with you. I would have like to say more about it. I was allowed only 300 pages (I exceeded it anyway) and had information for twice as much. I had to choose what was most important to the reader, not to myself. For my part, ASTM is so important that I volunteer my time, as you know. And I cover ASTM activities in my newsletter and lectures. But for most readers of the book, ASTM is not crucial.

I lecture to a few thousand artists and teachers every year. I find that most artists are not interested in explanations of the intricacies of labeling decision-making. In addition, the actual writing of the book was finished in 1989. At that time, the new labeling law was not in effect and the major certifier was the ACMI. That's why I mentioned the law and finished the section with the statement that "...it is hoped that all art materials will be labeled in accordance with ACMI or equally stringent standards." The new law is likely to fulfill this hope.

Were I to write the book today, I would certainly mention that ASTM developed the original standard to which all art material labels must now refer. Then, I would concentrate on the new law itself: Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) definitions of chronic toxicity, guidelines, enforcement, etc.

I might also tell readers that many members of the subcommittee that worked on ASTM D 4236 may not be at all pleased by the CPSC's interpretation of their standard or of the new law. I certainly would mention that this committee is composed primarily of people who earn their living making and/or selling art materials. Knowing the economic motivation of standard setters is important information for consumers.

I, on the other hand, could easily defend the position that there is but slight economic motivation for writing my book--or in fact, for my whole career.

Monona Rossol
Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety
181 Thompson Street, #23 New York, NY 10012

Dear Monona:

Thank you for your response to the copy of the column I sent you. I consider your book a valuable source of information that, as I wrote, "should be available to all conservators, artists or craftspersons." My observations were based on the concept that ease for users to find both positive and accurate information is the optimal way to present this material.

I would never "lump" you with anyone, Monona. You are unique. After all, we have the same goal, simply presented in different ways: the protection of the health of the community of artists. After careful examination of your book, I felt it would be helpful to the WAAC membership to make some positive comments.

You're absolutely correct. I found information about cadmium, but it was presented in a way that made a protracted search necessary. Nowhere could I find information related specifically to the hazards of airbrush or spray paint use of cadmium, or any other hazardous material, except in very general terms. Where the toxicologist finds it necessary, the phrase "Do not spray apply" is one of the required precautionary statements. I feel the omission of any specific information relating to commercial artists (graphic designers) is unfortunate. The airbrush plays a very significant part in their work environment, and they certainly would be concerned readers of a book like yours.

A key sentence in your letter is, "Intelligent readers will conclude that if they follow the precautions listed they are not even exposed to cadmium pigments by using premixed paints." Clearly, you agree that they don't even have to search and "conclude" if the label is read and the precautions shown are followed.

It is surprising to hear that you feel that ASTM information is not crucial to the readers of your book, particularly because it was the organization that supported the development of the Chronic Health Hazard Standard. I feel that your readers should know that the ASTM is a rigidly democratic institution. And in any ASTM committee, there should always be some disagreement that must be resolved by a consensus during the development of standards. The membership of the ASTM committee dealing with artists' materials are artists, manufacturers, a toxicologist, industrial hygienists, conservation scientists, paint chemists, an art materials retailer, representatives of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and several state health agencies. To encourage their attendance and stimulate response from the community they serve, manufacturers who have participated in the committee have funded the attendance of artists and other interested people. The implication that members of the subcommittee might be biased for economic reasons is very offensive. Protecting their customers' health is very much in their interest.

I would ask you to remember that our mutual goal is providing information to guide users of artists' materials to continue to execute works of art while using their materials properly in a healthful environment. My purpose in writing the "Comments" column in the May 1991 WAAC Newsletter was to encourage the use of your book as a resource while fortifying your intent in a positive way.

Zora Sweet Pinney

The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide, by Monona Rossol, is published by Allworth Press, NYC and distributed by North Light Books, 1507 Dana Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45207. $16.95. To order, call 800/289-0963.

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