ASSIGNMENT 13: Health violations uncovered at local tattoo parlors

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – There are 17 tattoo businesses in the Chippewa Valley and 12 of them are in the city of Eau Claire.

And it’s no wonder there are so many out there.

A 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center showed 38 percent of so-called millennials, those aged 18-29 have a tattoo.

For the Gen X crowd it’s 22 percent.

The Boomer generation is at 15 percent.

But are you putting your health at risk by having “tats” done at these shops?

WEAU 13 News takes a closer look at how they’re inspected and which ones have had critical violations in an Assignment 13 Investigation.

“It's almost more dangerous for us to give tattoos to people than it is to go to the hospital and have blood drawn,” said Josi Paulson, the owner of Skinprints in Eau Claire.

All tattoo and piercing businesses in the state of Wisconsin must have a routine inspection by a health department once a year.

“But yet there aren’t lots of regulations that are really enforcing our studios to comply as cleanly as I think we could,” Paulson said.

So WEAU set out to find how clean local tattoo shops are, pulling the most recent health department inspection reports from Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn Counties.

Dunn County’s only tattoo establishment checked out with zero violations.

Of the three in Chippewa County only one had a violation.
Eau Claire County has 13 businesses.

Seven of them were found to have noted violations on their last inspection.

Taking a closer look at the reports, WEAU found the most common violation amongst the body art shops was problems with keeping sterilization records up to snuff.

The shops sterilize tattoo and piercing tools with an autoclave.

Autoclaves are found in nearly all tattoo parlors.

While the needles are disposable, the casings around them are not and must be cleaned in the autoclave.

“It heats whatever you put in it up to a certain temperature that's sufficient to kill any bacteria that might be present or any viruses and then it's considered sterile,” said Richard Thoune, the director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

The little ovens are tested to make sure they’re cleaning properly.

Proof of this in a spore sample must be sent to the health department once a month.

And what if the results are late?

“It's a significant violation and if we continue to see it occur, we would have to issues orders. That could include ceasing and desisting operations until they demonstrate that their autoclave is working,” Thoune said.

Thoune said blood and bodily fluids left on the casings comes with many risks if it’s passed onto the next customer.

“Certainly Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV; there are also surface bacteria that are capable of causing skin infections,” Thoune said.

A report from the Chippewa County Health Department shows Touch of Class Ink in Chippewa Falls was written up in January for not keeping proper sterilization records.

One of the owners there canceled a scheduled interview.

In Eau Claire at Karma, a May inspection found a monthly spore test was more than a month late.

The owner also did not want to comment.

But at Artisan in Eau Claire, WEAU was able to talk with the owner about the inspection report that said spore samples were not being submitted.

“We were doing samples with the state of Wisconsin instead of the county so there was some confusion there,” said Blake Handrick, the owner of Artisan.

Handrick said the misunderstanding has since been cleared up and Artisan is now submitting samples to the City-County Health Department.

Skinprints in Eau Claire had zero violations on its last inspection.
Owner Josi Paulson said prospective tattoo customers should check out a business before getting “inked”.

“How does it feel? Does it look clean? Were your people personable? Do they look clean and tidy? But when it comes to cleanliness, you just have to ask questions," Paulson said.

Thoune said you can also call your local health department to see which places have had violations.

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