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Toxic products found in nail salon products, report says

April 10, 2012 |  9:47 am

Toxic nail products
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control is expected to issue a report Tuesday showing that investigators found toxic chemicals in several nail products that had claimed to be toxic-free -- bad news for people who work in California's ubiquitous nail salons.

The study, based on a small sample of products from Bay Area distributors, focused on three chemicals known as the "toxic trio": formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to cancer and birth defects, according to the state.

"It is just disheartening, distressing and disturbing as a consumer and a regulator," said Debbie Raphael, director of the department.

Raphael said the results were surprising and showed that the state needs to work more closely with manufacturers to ensure that labels are accurate, and with regulators to determine whether there are safer alternatives for consumers and workers.

There are roughly 120,000 licensed nail technicians in 48,000 salons across the state. About four in five are Vietnamese women. Their health has long been an important issue for advocates, who say salon employees work long hours in hazardous conditions and suffer health problems as a result.

Workers have more headaches, respiratory problems and skin irritations than the general population and are exposed to chemicals at higher than recommended levels, according to research in scientific journals. Now, safety issues in nail salons are attracting closer attention from state officials.

There is little regulation of nail product manufacturers, said Thu Quach, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California who has studied the nail salon industry.

Any amount of toxic chemicals in nail products can be dangerous to workers, she said, especially if the salons lack adequate ventilation.

"Low levels in the products really add up when you are using them constantly," she said. Cities have started to recognize the potential hazards.

This summer, San Francisco will begin formally recognizing salons that use toxic-free products. The city's ordinance was supported by the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, which organizes and educates workers and pushes for policy changes to make salons safer.


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Photo: Thuy Vo polishes nails at Queen Nails in Brea. Concerns have been raised about nail salon workers' exposure to toxic chemicals. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times