Ecofriendly Nail Salons: Color Me Nontoxic
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Some former workers have become advocates. Alisha Tran is a former manicurist who is now part of a research team with Asian Health Services and the Northern California Cancer Center. Tran works to convince salon workers to participate in the project, which entails wearing an air monitor badge that tests for chemicals in the air.
Tran became an advocate after she was sent to the emergency room twice within two months. Both times, she was working on someone’s nails when her face and hands went numb. The second time Tran went to the hospital, the doctor who attended to her recommended that she leave her job.
“I quit two weeks later,” Tran says.
Tran hopes that her research will prove to nail salon workers that their jobs put their health at risk. She says advocating can be tricky—she can’t just tell people to leave their jobs because many have limited English skills and lack other options. And even if workers are concerned about chemicals, Tran says, they often fear that speaking up or asking to wear gloves will cause them to lose their jobs.
To ensure the safety of all nail salon workers, advocates believe the government should step in to regulate manufacturers, including banning more harmful chemicals, as the European Union has done. The U.S. cosmetics industry is allowed to sell products without even testing for safety, and manufacturers use known toxins—which they claim are safe—in small doses.
There’s also currently no green certification for nail salons in the United States, though groups like the Asian Law Caucus are trying to set a standard in California, and a Seattle-area group is setting up standards as part of King County’s EnviroStars green business program.
Without more laws to protect workers, more research into chemical exposure, and standards for green salons, people will have to rely on their own senses—and on entrepreneurs like Nguyen, whose goal isn’t just to make a living, but also to make a statement.
Momo Chang is an Oakland-based freelance writer and an editor at Hyphen, a volunteer-run magazine that explores contemporary Asian American culture. This article is excerpted from its Summer 2009 issue.
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