Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The following post has been submitted by guest blogger, Erica Bloom, Outreach Intern at Women's Voices for the Earth, one of the co-founding organizations of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
Every once in a while I enjoy a good manicure. I usually sit back, relax, and socialize with my manicurist. But it wasn’t until I read the report from Women’s Voices for the Earth, “Glossed Over” that I realized that while the technician painted my nails red, we both were being exposed to some not so pretty toxic chemicals.
According to “Glossed Over,” the top three chemicals of concern in many nail polishes are toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate—dubbed the “toxic trio”. These chemicals are linked to cancer, developmental disabilities, and reproductive harm. But while my exposure is limited to the time I spend in the salon, the nail salon worker is exposed to these chemicals everyday for hours at a time, often in poorly ventilated spaces.
The vast majority of these technicians are women (95%) and they are predominately women of color (59%). In comparison to men, women carry the exposure of toxic chemicals in a unique way. For example, many chemicals accumulate in fat, and women generally have a higher percentage of fat tissues than men do. And unfortunately, small daily exposures can lead to chemicals building up in a woman’s body which add up over a lifetime.
Nail salon workers have complained of work-related headaches, skin problems, and respiratory problems. In fact, studies show that women working in the nail salon industry have higher rates of occupational asthma and greater problems with attention and cognitive processing.
This issue effects nail salon worker’s reproductive health as well. For one, pregnant women or women aiming to conceive are especially vulnerable; even at low levels of exposure, toxic chemicals can have health impacts on a developing child. Studies also show that women in the nail salon industry have higher rates of spontaneous abortion. The average nail technician is 38 years old, and many Asian-American nail workers report that they simply quit their jobs when they become pregnant out of fear for the health of their child.
In addition, because many nail salon workers speak limited English, they often do not have basic safety information in a language they can read. Therefore, many remain in the dark as to what chemicals they are being exposed to in the workplace and, as a result, have no way of protecting themselves from harmful exposure.
Two organizations are working hard to protect worker health and the public from exposure to these chemicals. The National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance (The Alliance) works to advance worker health and safety in the nations nail salons. The Alliance works closely with The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a national coalition of women’s and environmental public health organizations. Together these organizations advocate for better safety information for workers and the elimination of the most harmful chemicals from salon products.
The Campaign and the Alliance need your help to ensure that nail salons are safe places to work and to visit. One way to get involved is to download the wallet card nail polish guide to learn which nail polish companies have removed “the toxic trio.” The next time you visit your nail salon, show your manicurist this guide and ask the owner to stock nail polishes and products that are free of toluene, dibutyl phthalate, and formaldehyde. And please take a minute right now to sign the petition for safe cosmetics calling on Congress to take action on toxic chemicals in products like nail polish.
A safe working environment is a fundamental right for a woman; a woman shouldn’t have to make the choice between her paycheck and exposing herself to harmful chemicals that cause health problems.
So join the movement for safer nail salon worker health and take action now!