Three particularly harmful chemicals -- toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde -- often used in nail polishes, glues and hardeners are known to cause birth defects and cancer, as well as headaches, dizziness and asthma. As a result of the new ordinance, nail salons that utilize products free of these chemicals will be promoted by the city and recognized as "healthy" salons. The ordinance will not only allow customers to make informed choices about what kind of nail salons they patronize, but also may push salon owners to change the kind of products they use -- improving working conditions for the mostly female, mostly immigrant, and largely Asian populations that provide labor for San Francisco's salons.
This move to improve safety for nail salon workers is particularly important because, as Julia Liou, co-founder of CHNSC, noted in a recent New York Times article, so many of these women are of reproductive age -- and the side effects of continued exposure to these toxins could very well affect generations to come. Until recently, however, little attention was paid to the dangers of prolonged exposure faced by salon employees -- mainly because workers have historically kept silent about the health complications that arise as a result of their jobs. “They don’t complain because they don’t have any job security,” as one salon owner pointed out.
Now, though, thanks to some powerful organizing by grassroots groups nationwide, municipalities are being forced to make changes. New York State recently put in place a law that requires salon owners to provide workers with masks and gloves if they request them. And according to the Times, in Washington State environmentalists have started a movement to educate salon owners about the potential dangers of these products by teaming up with community-based educators -- trusted messengers sent into the field to spread awareness in their own communities about the need for safe practices and products.
Congratulations to organizers in San Francisco for scoring a major win on behalf of salon workers in that city! And here's hoping the rest of the country will follow suit and mandate similar protections, sooner rather than later.