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Kent County Health Department warns of illegal tattoo artists

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    There’s concern today that illegal tattoo artists are posing a growing public health risk in Kent County. The Health Department and Grand Rapids Police Department are investigating at least one illegal operation. WGVU’s Patrick Center tells us about the danger.

“You may think you’re getting a deal on a tattoo and end up really messed up.”

Steve Kelso at the Kent County Health Department warns us about the proliferation of unlicensed body artists, in the tattoo industry known as “scratchers.”

“There is a real public health risk There are licensed legitimate tattoo artists, body artists, if you will. They go through classes. They know how to stop the spread of disease and any time you’re talking needles you’re talking a public health risk. We’re talking about hepatitis, HIV, and there are number of bacteria that if it’s administered wrong can scar you for life.”.”

The Grand Rapids Police Department and Kent County Health Department are investing the operator of one unlicensed body art facility. Kelso says investigators are aware of illegal tattoo parties and the sense is a prevalence flying under the radar. The challenge is making arrests and enforcing laws. Kelso says it’s the licensed tattoo artists who are blowing the whistle.

“It’s a parent who comes forward because their child has been into one of these places. In some cases it’s a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband who turns in the artist. In some cases it’s someone who says, ‘Hey, look. I did this and this guy really messed me up.”

The Kent County Health Department says violators face a misdemeanor, punishable up to 93 days in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.