GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The boom in the popularity of tattoos brought more regulations and a new law that requires tattoo artists to be licensed and have their facility routinely inspected.
David Mayville is a licensed artist who brought his concerns about underground tattooing to the Kent County Health Department.
"Some days it has me running around here so mad I can't even talk," he told Target 8. "The health department says call the police department. The police department says call the health department. I'm going back and forth."
He pays $800 a year in state and county licensing fees . Underground artists pay nothing, and Mayville said not enough is being done about that.
"At the same time they're putting the community at risk, but (illegal tattoo artists) don't care because they're not working out of a shop. So they have nothing to lose at all."
One careless, contaminated tattoo could mean Hepatitis A, B, C , MRSA or HIV.
On Craigslist, illegal tattoo artists advertise cheap prices, and one even was willing to do barters for tattoo work.
Dr. Shelley Drew knows the health risks are immense. Getting a tattoo means "putting a needle into your skin that may have been in somebody else or may be contaminated with somebody else's blood," the family physician told Target 8. "This is really gross."
Target 8 investigators answered one tattoo ad on craigslist from an artist who would do a tattoo in exchange for a PlayStation 3. He worked out of a secluded house near Mount Pleasant.
When Target 8 ran a check on that address, a Tier 3 sex offender -- considered the most dangerous - was registered there.
Over the past two years, the Kent County Health Department investigated about a dozen tattoo artists. One of them is David Annible.
Annible admitted he tattoos out of his home to make some extra money. Clients make appointments on his Facebook page - where there is also a picture of his son giving him a tattoo.
When asked if that was safe, Annible said, "I set the equipment up. It was clean equipment."
He said he understands the health concerns, but he works out of his home because "I've got to make a living. I've got to support my family."
He's taken health safety classes, he said, and has been tattooing for 17 years, long before home tattooing became illegal. He claims it's the reckless artists who give careful ones, like him, a bad rap.
"I'm 100% safe, yes," Annible said. "(People) are not at risk (of getting a disease.) I take all the precautions just like a tattoo shop would. I've worked in tattoo shops for years and years. I know the precautions to take, and I've taken them."
But Dr. Drew said "The needles aren't the only things involved in the tattoo. There's all the other equipment that, if not properly sterilized, then transfers that virus into you."
Lisa LaPlante of the Kent County Health Department said they take the problem seriously but only investigate artists when they get complaints.
"Absolutely nobody should be operating without a license," she said. "End of story."
After Target 8 spoke with Annible, he decided to change. He said he'll only work out of a licensed shop now.
"I guess I'm going to be forced to, yeah."
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