A Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) report found in California salons that “nontoxic” nail polishes actually have high levels of agents linked to birth defects.
The report released on Tuesday found that the mislabeled nail products have the potential to harm thousands of workers in over 48,000 nail salons in California, and their customers.
Agency officials said the false claims may be a violation of a state law that requires disclosure of harmful chemicals in consumer products.
A final decision on whether the companies will be facing legal action will be made by the state attorney general.
Investigators randomly chose 25 brands of polishes that are available only at nail salons during the research, including a number of products claiming they were free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde.
The regulators said exposure to large amounts of these chemicals has been linked to development problems, asthma and other illnesses.
The investigators found that 10 out of 12 products that claimed to be free of toluene actually contained it, and four of the products had high levels of the toxin.
According to the report, five of seven products that claimed to not have the toxins actually included one or more in significant levels.
“We know there are exposures at salons, both to workers and customers, and we’re concerned about potential harm,” Karl Palmer, the DTSC’s pollution prevention performance manager who oversaw the report, told The Associated Press (AP). “Our strategy first and foremost is to shed light on the reality of what’s in these products and put this information out to everyone.”
The agency said all three of the chemicals are linked to chronic health conditions when inhaled, and that the 121,000 licensed nail care technicians who work in the salons are the most at risk.
“We are alarmed by the results of this report,” Julia Liou, co-founder of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and a public health administrator for Asian Health Services, said in a statement to AP and the Los Angeles Times. “The misbranding of products is not only a major public health problem, but also interferes with a salon worker’s right to a safe and healthy work environment.”
Last year, Boston health officials approved regulations requiring salons to get health permits and establish more protections for workers. San Francisco will start to formally recognize salons that use toxic-free products as well.
Liou, co-founder of the collaborative and public health administrator at Asian Health Services in Oakland, said the new state report is alarming and could undermine the efforts of owners trying to do the right thing to protect their workers.
“This is a major public health issue and it really interferes with workers’ right to a healthy work environment,” she told the LA Times. “Workers shouldn’t have to suffer health impacts because a manufacturer is making false claims.”
Hue Nguyen, 58, has worked as a manicurist in the Bay Area since 2004, according to a report by the LA Times, and she said after she started working at the salon, she started feeling dizzy and getting headaches.
“I think it is related to the chemicals,” she told the LA Times through a translator, claiming that she was healthy until she began the job.
Nail companies claim health officials should focus on ventilation and protective gear rather than products.
Doug Schoon, scientist and co-chairman of the Nail Manufacturers Council told the LA Times that instead of throwing out the chemicals, people should be better informed on how to use them “in a safe fashion.”
Phuoc Dam, a manager of a nail salon in Brea, said he tries to buy toxic-free nail polish and ensure his workers have fresh air.
However, he told the LA Times that he still worries about the long-term effects of nail products on his staff, including his wife, which is one of the salon’s manicurists. He said that his wife has recurring headaches and dizziness.
One legal expert on environmental law told AP that if the state attorney general decides to act on the report, and nail polish makers are unsuccessful at fighting it, then “the retailers and manufacturers of these products may be subject to litigation and liability exposure,” Thomas J.P. Henry said.