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County grand jury recommends better tattoo, body piercing oversight

Friday, May 14, 2010 -- By LORA HINES

The department that oversees Riverside County's estimated 100 tattoo and body piercing parlors soon could propose a county ordinance that might strengthen regulation of such businesses.

Steve Van Stokum, director of the county Environmental Health Department, said he has postponed presenting an ordinance to county supervisors as he and other county health officers have waited for state lawmakers to enact tattoo and body piercing legislation that would supersede a local ordinance.

San Bernardino County environmental health officials also are waiting for passage of a state law, said Mike Farrell, who oversees regulation of the county's tattoo parlors.

However, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last fall vetoed a statewide law, saying that counties had authority to pass their own rules.

Van Stokum's proposed ordinance comes after the recent release of a critical grand jury report. Grand jurors' recommendations included that the department:

Follow through on adoption of an ordinance that would better protect practitioners and clients.

Ensure that department employees are properly trained and enforce standards recommended by the California Conference of Local Health Officers in 1998.

Ensure annual inspections are conducted and that practitioners pay for them.

The grand jury submitted its report this month to the county's executive office. The report is on Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting agenda.

Van Stokum said his response to the report is to be submitted to the executive office within 30 days. The executive office then has 60 days to draft its report to the supervisors. The supervisors may accept or reject the findings of the grand jury, which has no enforcement authority.

Van Stokum said he believes the department could improve maintenance of its training documents and "tweak" the language used in its practitioner registration forms. Inspectors are properly trained and ensure that practitioners meet safety, sterilization and sanitation requirements, even though the county lacks an ordinance, he said.

"No one has been at risk of getting sick," Van Stokum said.

He also agreed with the grand jury's assessment that the department may have been lax in collecting an annual $105 inspection fee required by state law in January 1999. Practitioners started paying the fee in the past year, Van Stokum said.

Desiree Eisenbarth, owner of The Velvet Vault in Lake Elsinore, said county inspectors routinely check to make sure her business and employees are properly certified. She said she has spent more than $100,000 to operate a professional tattoo and body piercing shop.

"Nobody has a problem with the health department," she said, adding that tattooing and body piercing are invasive procedures, which require certification. "Regulations are just fine with us. I'm not going to run a shoddy operation."

Eisenbarth and body piercer Soda Santiago said they wish county inspectors had resources to go after uncertified people, known as scratchers, who break rules and endanger people. They tend to offer cut-rate services on Internet sites.

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