"Greening" NYC Nail Salons for Customers and Workers

As beach season in New York comes to a close, so too does the most popular season for manicures and pedicures: which is both good news and bad news for some of New York City's nail salon workers. While a slower salon season might mean less customers and less money for workers, less work also means less exposure to dangerous toxins in nail salons, which can pose serious health risks for workers who are regularly exposed.

There are over 375,000 nail salon workers across the United States, who are exposed to dangerous health hazards like glues, polishes, removers, and other products; and also risk infections from contact with clients' skin, nails, or blood. Nail polishes and other nail products commonly contain what's nicknamed the "toxic trio" of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene, which can have serious health ramifications when inhaled regularly without proper ventilation. Formaldehyde has been labeled a carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, dibutyl phthalate has been linked to birth defects, and toluene has been shown to damage both the reproductive and nervous systems.

The "toxic trio" is just the tip of the iceberg; there are dozens of other toxins in nail salons that are dangerous to both workers and consumers alike and can cause headaches, asthma, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and more. For consumers who get a quick mani-pedi before a beach weekend, these toxins are dangerous; but for workers who are exposed regularly to nail salon toxins without proper ventilation and other protections at their salons, they can cause serious sicknesses.

In different cities across the country, various strategies have been implemented to try and protect nail salon customers and workers. San Francisco, California was the first city in the country to pass a Healthy Nail Salon Recognition ordinance in late 2010, which promotes salons that ban the usage of the toxic trio in their shops. The Boston Public Health Commission also publicizes "green" salons and offers free trainings and technical assistance, advising on what kind of personal protective equipment workers should wear and what kinds of ventilation systems are effective. To ensure regulations are being followed, the City of Boston has enforcement power, ensuring that salons are inspected regularly and fined for violations of laws that put the public's safety and health at risk.

It's time for New York City to follow the lead of Boston and San Francisco and take aggressive measures to protect people who work at and frequent nail salons. The New York City Council will soon be pressed to vote on a piece of legislation that not only requires that ventilation systems and protective equipment like gloves and respirators be utilized, but also ensures that nail salons that do not comply are fined appropriately. If the bill is enacted, as the seasons change and customers again flock to the salons, both consumers and workers alike can be a little more at ease, knowing that safety and health in New York City's nail salons is a priority.