A Breath Of Fresh Air: New York's Historic Ventilation Regs In Nail Salons

Ventilation regulations aren't what the average person associates with a safe and healthy workplace. But for nail salon workers, who are breathing in a toxic cocktail of chemicals every day on the job, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's recent executive order requiring ventilation in nail salons is a life saver.

After the Governor's historic nail salon legislation passed last year advocates immediately received a flood of inquiries from workers about health and safety in their salons. The standout was a young immigrant woman from Mexico who shared her worries over her first born son's health, who was born with birth deficiencies. She had worked in the salon during her pregnancy and was pregnant again, afraid of the impact that the toxins in her salon would have on her unborn son. Each nail salon worker has her own stories of labored breathing, lingering coughs, or knows coworkers who experienced severe health issues due to prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals. Conscientious nail salon owners and consumers have realized this is about their health too.

Most nail salons expose workers, owners, and clients to toxins that include carcinogens like formaldehyde, or chemicals like toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and methacrylates. Nail products contain an estimated 10,000 chemicals, and nearly 90 percent of these products have not been independently tested for safety. Breathing in these chemicals every day can cause asthma, reproductive harm, or even cancer.

The most effective way to protect workers and consumers from these chemicals would be for the federal government to ensure that they cannot be used at all--to rigorously test and eliminate unsafe products and remove all toxic products from nail salons. Consumers are already starting to make this demand, and the European Union has banned chemicals known to cause birth defects or cancer since 1976.

A close second to a total ban on toxins in salons is a strong ventilation regulation to prevent workers from breathing in toxic air, which New York has now made a reality in the state's 5,000+ nail salons. The regulations will be implemented in new salons as of October 3, 2016; and all existing salons will need to become compliant within five years.

These new regulations are positive for consumers and workers alike, but they are critical for nail salon workers, primarily Asian and Latina women, many of whom are undocumented and uninsured. For these workers, medical attention is expensive and often requires long waits at medical clinics to speak with doctors who sometimes don't even speak their language. Ventilation regulations will help prevent workers from getting sick in the first place.

New York's ongoing dedication to innovative policy solutions in nail salons, from the Nail Salon Workers Bill of Rights, to wage bonds, to ventilation regulations are a breath of fresh air for New York's workers and consumers and are paving the way towards creating healthier nail salons all across the country.