Consultation with OWU’s Art Professors

I recently met with Jim Krehbiel, printmaking and computer imaging professor and head of the art department here at OWU, along with Jon Quick, the sculpture professor, to discuss the environmental ramifications of their work and classes. OWU is in a tricky position, Krebiel said, because we aren’t a big enough producer of harmful waste for large-scale recovery to be effective, yet we produce too much chemical waste for it to just get dumped down the drain without consequences. Some of the more dangerous/toxic combinations in print making are dutch mordant (potassium chlorate and hydrochloric acid used to etch copper plates) and zinc etching (which uses nitric acid and water). Other potentially harmful chemicals are Krylon spray paints used and kerosene used to remove the etching ground. Krehbiel said that in all cases, students’ safety is his number one concern, followed closely by the quality of the work produced. Many of these methods are ancient, developed hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and are perfected to produce the best art, not the most environmentally friendly. Safety issues are combated with state-of-the-art ventilation systems (over $30,000 worth in the etching ground room alone) which release the gases released from the acid/metal reactions into the atmosphere. After consulting with David Lever, and organic chemistry professor at OWU, he determined that the amount of gas produced in ppm in a week would be about as detrimental as driving a car from Delaware to Cleveland, not a huge release. Additionally, the acid baths from etching are neutralized with baking soda and put down the drain. Dr. Lever also said that the metal content of these baths wouldn’t be terribly detrimental to the ecosystems into which they are released, and that copper and zinc are not as big a problem as Cadmium, Mercury or Rubidium would be. All in all, the computer imaging side of the OWU art department doesn’t seem to be terribly “green,” but there really aren’t a lot of alternatives to produce printing materials that would support the level of performance to which OWU student artists have become accustomed.

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