It came as somewhat of a shock at first glance to read that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regent Queen, oh, I mean chief, Gina McCarthy was headed to a nail salon. (I mean, seriously, have you SEEN her nails? Clipped short and unvarnished, unlike this writer’s.) As it turns out, where she’s really going is to meet with a San Francisco shop owner and representatives from the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. What they are going to discuss seems to be along the lines of safety at the salons themselves…and regulations.
The EPA already does some work on nail salon working conditions, partnering with a handful of other federal agencies to look at outreach programs and potential regulatory changes based around health concerns in shops, such as workers’ exposure to chemicals. The agency released a guide on chemical exposure in shops in 2007.
Chemicals in nail salons? You don’t say. Ever walk past one and see the workers wearing dust masks? There’s a reason for that. The acrylic used to make the big, fat, hard talons sported by a lot of, um, women of color is pretty noxious, and it’s been linked to pretty serious health issues. The patch stuff that my old manicurist used to use any time I’d break one isn’t much better. And the dust all of it puts off when it’s shaped…. Then there’s the acetone to remove polish, the base coat, the polish itself, and the top coat. It’s more or less specialized paint. That doesn’t include cuticle remover, paraffin, Bag Balm, facial wax – all previously approved for this use by the EPA.
(Yes, this writer has done the nail salon thing quite often. In these parts, the salon ladies are Vietnamese and quite hospitable. Most are super clean, too.)
What seemed to prompt this was a New York Times expose published May 7 about working, living and wage conditions for nail salon workers in the greater New York area. If conditions for these women are actually as described in the amazingly detailed piece, it is appalling, and the state of New York needs to take action. They really do. The EPA’s involvement, on the other hand, is meddling and given this EPA chief’s tendency to overreach authority, one has to wonder where this will end.
Yes, there is the chemical issue, but there’s also other EPA interests involved:
- The water for pedicure spas. Every new customer gets a fresh foot bath (and be sure the people in the salon clean the bowl with bleach or something before putting your feet in there. Seriously. This writer has known people who’ve had to take oral antibiotics for foot fungus caught while getting a pedi).
- The electricity for the spas and the massage chairs, paraffin machines (foot, hand, brow, and lip wax), the UV lights to dry the enamel, and every other little thing.
- Disposal of old polish, wax, etc. Should some of that stuff go to a toxic waste dump? What about the muslin that pulls facial hair out with the wax? Since bleeding happens every now and then, should there be hazardous waste disposal?
As America is under the Obama Administration, ostensibly all this can be regulated by the EPA if McCarthy so decides. Chemicals are just a foot in the door, even if they have already been approved by the department previously. When it comes to working conditions and licensing, though, the EPA is meddling. Every state has it’s own licensing scheme for cosmetologists. The salons I frequent have rows of state licenses on the wall. In Missouri, there is some school involved to get one. Cleanliness standards should be locally controlled – and yes, anyone who gets a fungus in a salon get on Yelp and tell the story. That will do just as much or more to get the places to clean their spas as anything else. But, still, cleanliness and working conditions at the federal level are OSHA issues, not environmental.
Not just in New York, but everywhere else women frequent nail salons for a little pampering, the situation may include a whole lot of women from the far east who mutter among themselves in their native language, but really, if they are illegals that’s an immigration issue, not one for the EPA to worry about. At least it shouldn’t be. Federal agencies should work together, but the EPA as a force for immigration control is an overreach.
There are a lot of people who will read through this and say, “I really don’t care. Get some nail clippers.” The flippancy does not address the real issue: EPA overreach. Nail salons, which are lucrative businesses, and the manufacturers of the cosmetic tools used in them could potentially be regulated out of business. And then we ladies who like to have pretty hands and smooth feet will have to resort to gluing sandpaper to cardboard to get the job done.
P.S. According to IMPACT1 who commented on the Moonbattery piece on this topic, there are also import implications:
I have worked in the personal care industry. Many Many of “US made” ” personal care products”…..especially Nail Polish has already been regulated through the roof here in the US. Formalhyde us NOT in US made Nail Polish
KEY: Products made in the USA.
OTHER “KEY”: COUNTRIES : Like CHINA have NO REGULATIONS on Ingredients used in production. Of course these “IMPORTS” will HAVE these (US Regulated) Ingredients in them. THIS is the ABSURDITY of the EPA and an EXCUSE to STICK THEIR NOSES AND GOVERNMENT TENACLES where they DON’T BELONG!! Another (phony) “Regulatory” Power Grab!! This time on Nail Salons…
Also to Note: South American Countries have STRICT RULES on Hazardous Material IMPORTS.