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Nail salon workers may be facing toxic exposure every day

Earlier this month, we wrote about the immediate dangers many workers still face on the job. Construction accidents and manufacturing-related injuries are a common occurrence; even as states have begun shrinking their workers' compensation programs and gutting protections for injured workers.

Some workplace illnesses and injuries are not immediate, they are cumulative. An individual may work for years or decades in a profession before discovering that they have developed cancer or other serious health problems due to toxic exposure in the workplace. This was the case for many workers who developed mesothelioma as a result of working with asbestos, and it continues to be a problem for individuals working every day around hazardous chemicals.

The New York Times recently ran a story about the predominantly female workforce in nail salons around the country. The ingredients in most nail products are dangerous to say the least. They include solvents, hardeners, glues and polishes which may contain toxic chemicals. The average nail salon customer may only endure a slightly unpleasant odor or very mild irritation during the short period of time they spend getting their nails done. But an alarmingly high number of women who work in salons suffer serious health problems that affect them and their children.

Many nail salon employees suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments, most likely related to the chemicals they breathe in all day. They also tend to suffer skin ailments that can be both unsightly and very painful.

And although research has not conclusively proven this link yet, salon workers often suffer from reproductive issues including frequent miscarriages and children born with developmental delays or disabilities. According to the NYT article, older employees sometimes warn younger women to find a different job if they want to have children.

The cosmetics industry obviously has a vested interest in maintaining that their products are completely safe. And regulation of beauty products is surprisingly sparse. Manufacturers of beauty products like nail polish are usually not required to share safety information with the FDA.

Unfortunately, many of the women who work in nail salons have few other employment options. These jobs tend to attract immigrants who may have limited English skills and little formal education or training.

In light of this alarming report, we must hope that legislators and safety regulators take decisive action to protect these workers, and by extension, any Americans who use these products.

Source: The New York Times, "Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers," Sarah Maslin Nir, May 8, 2015

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