Senate bill addresses body art safety

It's common sense that anyone putting a tattoo on your body or piercing it would know about the importance of sterilization.

And if not, that the state of Washington could do something about it.

Turns out the state can't. That's why a bipartisan group of state senators led by Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, pushed through a measure to regulate the body art industry. Senate Bill 5391 recently cleared the Legislature and is awaiting Gov. Chris Gregoire's signature.

The measure requires tattoo and body piercing artists to have a personal license and sets minimum safety and sanitation standards for practitioners of body art, requires a mandatory inspection of the business every two years and creates a way to deal with written complaints from consumers.

"I've been assured it'll be signed," Kastama said. The bill primarily addresses a health concern -- the risk of people getting infected by improperly sterilized needles or other sharp instruments at a body art business, he said. Someone could potentially get HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections from unsanitary practices, he said.

The proposed Washington Body Art, Body Piercing and Tattooing Act brings the state in line with other states, Kastama said. The body art business in Washington was unregulated for years because many people viewed it as an art form and didn't think it ought to be regulated, he said.

The proposal, which was years in the making, pleases at least two Tri-City tattoo artists.

"It's a decent idea to ensure the safety of clients," said Steve Adams, owner of Painted Flesh Tattoo in Kennewick.

"It'll get some of the riff-raff out," said Kody Flannery, 23, who recently started his own tattooing business in Kennewick. "Not everybody plays by the rules."

It needs to be regulated, said Flannery of Cascadia Tattoo Co.

Most legitimate tattoo businesses follow safety procedures and understand the importance of sterilizing needles and metal tubes, said Flannery, who worked at Iron Needle for a year before deciding to buy the business.

He said he uses one-time-use needles and metal ink-holding tubes and carefully sterilizes the tubes in an autoclave. Plastic tubes are good for small tattoos, he said. He prefers to use metal tubes because they hold ink well unlike plastic tubes, which tend to break down while applying bigger tattoos.

Tattoo machines are inexpensive but it cost about $1,000 to get a decent autoclave, Flannery said. That might tempt a few tattoo artists to skimp on the sterilization procedure.

The new law is a good start, he said. Now clients don't need to worry as much about the shop where they go to get a tattoo.

"They always have to be very careful. It's after all an invasive procedure," Flannery said.

"(The Washington law) still is not as strict as Oregon's," said Adams, who's read the bill. He previously worked as a tattoo artist in Oregon for five years before moving to the Tri-Cities.

Oregon requires 250 hours of training and a mandatory test to be a licensed tattoo artist, Adams said. Plus, the tattooing stations there can't have carpets, he said.

The proposed Washington law also has some site requirements like safe storage and labeling of equipment and substances, Adams said. That should ensure there's no cross contamination.

The new law will make him increase his liability insurance to $100,000, he said. But he's never had a safety incident. Like many tattoo artists, he uses disposable needles and plastic tubes instead of metal ones that need to be sterilized.