Being employed at a nail salon is akin to working at an oil refinery or an auto garage, according to Lupita Montoya, professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, whose research group conducted a study confirming high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in salons. The findings are among the first to illustrate the serious health risks prevalent in the industry, where technicians commonly work long hours and report symptoms such as headaches, respiratory difficulties, and skin irritation.
More than 90% of nail salons nationwide are small businesses, employing a predominantly minority workforce and lacking the resources to address worker health and safety adequately. "This is an issue that requires tremendous sensitivity and a respectful approach to the communities being served," stresses Montoya.
The researchers set up equipment to monitor known VOCs such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX, collectively), along with formaldehyde. The study found that for workers in some salons, lifetime cancer risk was up to 100 times higher than baseline EPA-issued levels. Salon customers, by contrast, face significantly fewer risks.
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