Wash. hazardous waste management works to reduce chemical exposure in nail salons

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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After a scathing investigation by the New York Times that uncovered working conditions in the Big Apple's nail salon industry, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an order to stop the theft of wages and health hazards the manicurists face.

Last week, the Times published an article outlining the underpayment, sometimes no payment, and other abuses in the nail salon industry.

Cuomo said effective immediately, a new task force will investigate all salons, forcing the businesses to protect the workers from the dangerous chemicals found in the products they use, the New York Times reported. 

>>Read the NYT's investigations: "The Price of Nice Nails" here and "Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers" here

The shops are also being ordered to pay workers back wages and be licensed.  Not complying with either rule will cause the shops to be shut down, the Times reported. 

The announcement was made Sunday and will become permanent in the next few months.

In King County, Washington, the local hazardous-waste management program has been working on improving health in nail salons, including reducing manicurists’ exposure to toxic chemicals.

The program, called the “Healthy Nail Salon Project,” has been in place since 2007.

“I think we should be very proud of the work we’re doing in the county,” said Charles Wu, with the hazardous-waste management program.

Wu said they train salon workers to wear masks, gloves and goggles. They also recommend getting good building ventilation systems and ventilation technology at each station.

The project partially subsidizes improvements a business makes, such as buying a new ventilation device. For every $1,000 the business spends on the machine, the program will chip in $500, according to Wu.

The money is covered through revenue from solid waste and utility fees.

King County also has an “Enviro Stars” program for any business that is certified in proper handling of chemicals.

Wu said there will be a major push this summer to have nail salons join the certification system. There are currently two salons certified. As more are added, they will be posted on a county website.

The Environmental Protection Agency points out three toxic chemicals in particular that some call the “toxic trio”:

-dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
-toluene
-formaldehyde

These chemicals are banned from cosmetics in other countries. Medical studies have linked them to birth defects, cognitive and kidney issues and respiratory illnesses.
Wu said consumers should look for nail polishes that are labeled “3-free.”

Jane Park, founder and CEO of the Seattle beauty company Julep, said its products started out as “5-free,” to make sure there was no formaldehyde resin, either.

Park said when she read the New York Times investigation, “I thought ‘finally.’ Because it’s been something that – It was the whole impetus for me starting Julep, is that I saw what terrible conditions that women were working in.”
She said they do not do acrylic nails at Julep parlors, because the dust from the process is often the most harmful for manicurists who inhale the particles.

Park said the harmful chemicals are “like secondhand smoke. If you walk in and out as a customer, and you’re there for an hour, maybe the chances that it’s going to harm you are much lower, but for the employees who are in there breathing it day in and day out,” the risk is much greater.

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