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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Health and Safety in Arts Education: Pollution Prevention Opportunities

Health, safety, and source reduction information for artists and art educators, including theater arts.

P2 Opportunities


Information in this section includes activities and materials, specific to the arts, that help reduce health-related issues and pollution prevention.

Pollution prevention is any process that reduces or eliminates the amount of and the toxicity of pollutants that would enter the waste stream or would otherwise have been released into the environment. 

Pollution prevention for arts education includes the following components:

  • Education
  • Identification
  • Substitution
  • Improving Operations and Waste Management
  • Monitoring


Knowledge of good practices is a critical first step in establishing pollution prevention practices. This means that art educators need to learn about the hazards involved with art materials, as well as alternatives that will allow them to achieve the results they want. Teachers can then pass those practices along to their students.

Education for art instructors needs to become formalized to provide resources for making informed decisions on changing techniques and materials. Art educators also need to stay current with changes in legal requirements and legislation for labeling of art products.


Assessments conducted in art studios and classrooms offer opportunities for determining the types of hazardous materials in the learning center. These assessments can establish baselines from which to develop pollution prevention plans and procedures. Conduct personal and classroom risk assessments as part of the identification process. Support for this can often be through local/state environmental protection agencies. Art and material inventories, use of paper, handling of waste, and energy management techniques all can be assessed.

Assessments should also address safety issues. In particular, backstage conditions in theatrical arts can create a variety of safety concerns not shared in most other art learning environments. When assessing this portion of the program, note floor conditions, ladders, scaffolding, electrical cords, and relationship of lights to flammable materials. Transporting potentially hazardous materials under these conditions can increase risks. Similar concerns can be found in industrial shops with power tools and sharp implements frequently in use while students are moving about the classroom.

Substitution and other purchasing practices

As a general rule, the following principles should be applied:

  • Avoid purchasing hazardous materials from the start of the process, thus eliminating the need to manage hazardous waste.
  • Avoid purchasing more supplies than you need.
  • Practice source reduction and waste reduction when making purchasing decisions.
  • Compare cost of the purchase price to the product's quality and life expectancy, as well as to the cost of proper disposal of waste generated from the product.
  • Give preference to slightly more expensive items if the quality will allow for much longer use or less replacement.

Following these strategies can save educational facilities money on supplies, which shifts funding from supplies back to education.

Improving operations

Best management techniques and curricula can guide art educators through improved operations. Suggested actions include:

  • Obtaining more energy-efficient equipment. Look for the Energy Star logo where applicable
  • Installing motion sensors that turn lights off when rooms are not in use
  • Changing purchasing procedures
  • Improving ventilation
  • Providing protective clothing and requiring that it be worn when appropriate
  • Changing handling and storage of materials
  • Adopting different housekeeping practices (i.e., reduce disturbing potentially hazardous substances)
  • Developing a plan for managing wastes and for monitoring old inventory
  • Establishing procedures for recycling waste material where possible


All pollution prevention procedures require systematic monitoring and follow-up. Below are suggestions for art studios:

  • Keep studio and classroom safe, clean, and properly functioning. Encourage students to properly clean at the end of class sessions, particularly when large amounts of dust have been generated
  • Maintain all equipment, protective clothing, detectors, and extinguishers
  • Monitor ventilation fans to be certain they are functioning
  • Regularly check storage for leaks, weak shelving, and out-of-date chemicals
  • Provide annual reviews of safety procedures with teaching and building maintenance staff
  • Check periodically to see that proper handling and disposal of hazardous material is being conducted
  • Replace lights with energy-efficient lighting and monitor all motion sensors.

Best practices

Best management practices combine various strategies to address different types and sources of wastes and health hazards with the most affordable and efficient methods. 

  1. Inventory old stored chemicals from art studios and art classrooms, industrial shops, and backstage areas. Properly dispose any hazardous, unusued, and/or out-of-date chemicals. Art classrooms include any area designated for art study (including photography, pottery, metal shop, ceramics, forging, painting, woodworking, and others).
  2. Implement policies to reduce further generation of hazardous wastes.
  3. Educate purchasers about hazardous products and selection of non-toxic alternative art materials, including reading labels and using safety data sheets.
  4. Create opportunities for instructors and art students to exchange unused materials from art projects.
  5. Develop a process for handling waste and stored chemicals.
  6. Establish a procedure for staying current on changing technology and research on hazardous and toxic supplies (both traditional and non-traditional) used in art education.

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