Chemical risk for operators in the arts field


  • Alessandro Bacaloni
  • Susanna Crescenzi
  • Susanna Insogna
  • Stefano Renzoni
  • Giovanna Ressa



In most workplaces where operators can be exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals or materials, chemical risk is
or should be a well known topic. However, the matter is often neglected or ignored in work and indoor environments
where activities are not on a regular basis connected to the exposition to potentially hazardous chemicals. These activities
include creation, restoration and consolidation concerning the artistic field and laboratory activities in schools and
professional institutes. When the artistic field is combined with school environment, the scenario can be worse, as chemical
risk is particularly underestimated even because there are not specific education courses on health and security.
In artistic schools and academies, students and teachers can daily use several products and materials, that may be hazardous
to health, unconsciously and carelessly. Solvents, diluents and paints contain several volatile organic compounds
potentially dangerous; gypsum and metal leaves can produce inhalable and respirable-size airborne particulate matter;
pigments, containing heavy metal, and acids can be hazardous when used without suitable gloves and masks. In order
to gain information regarding chemical risk in artistic academies, a chemical risk assessment was realized in one of the
most famous art schools in Italy, the “Accademia di Belle Arti†in Rome. After several surveys, according to the potentially
dangerous chemicals, materials and artistic techniques employed, we selected painting, sculpture and engraving
laboratories for specific chemical monitoring. It has to be mentioned that the lacking cooperation by personnel and the
shortage of material safety data sheets complicated our experimental work. Moreover, during our sampling and monitoring
activities, we observed that the use of protection and prevention methods by students and teachers was often
improper.Monitoring activities concerned active and passive sampling of volatile organic compounds in the laboratories
of painting and engraving, active sampling of airborne particulate matter originated from gypsum in the laboratory of
sculpture, active sampling of airborne particulate matter derived from metal leaves in the laboratory of engraving, and
consequent specific analyses. All the obtained values resulted below the considered TLV-TWA. In addition, the detection
of CO2 was realized in each laboratory, as indicator of poor air quality; settled dust was analysed, in order to achieve
more information about recent activities. In light of results obtained, the Occupational Health Physician opportunely
modified the Health Monitoring Program.