Minimum health, cleanliness, and sanitation standards would be established for the city’s nail salons under new rules the Boston Public Health Commission is considering.
The proposed rules come after a study found that nail salon workers were feeling adverse health effects – headaches, dizziness, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and infertility – that could be related to their work with chemicals. Public health officials have been working since 2008 with owners and workers to offer basic safety training and technical assistance.
Because of the high number of Vietnamese-Americans working in the industry, the commission has focused its outreach on the Vietnamese community, many of whom live in Dorchester. Hard numbers of nail salons, particularly those that are run by Vietnamese-Americans, are hard to come by.
A 2007 report by occupational health experts found that nail salons are “the core of the Vietnamese immigrant and refugee community’s economic support.” The report cited industry estimates that almost 40 percent of nail salon workers in the U.S. are Vietnamese, a figure that is likely higher on the country’s respective coasts.
Boston Public Health Commissioner Barbara Ferrer said that many nail salons don’t label the chemicals, or require use of gloves with some chemicals. While there are state regulations, inspections are not occurring enough to protect Boston residents, clients, and salon workers, she said. “There are very basic health and safety requirements and they’re not being met. The sense was that this might be a place the board of public health could make a difference and offer an additional set of criteria,” she added.
Under the proposed rules, the public health commission would be allowed to issue permits. The regulations also would require nail salons to have a fully stocked basic first aid kit on the premises. Because some are located in old buildings with poor ventilation, salons would be required to provide fresh outdoor air into the salon and to exhaust indoor air outside the salon in quantities sufficient to prevent the buildup of chemical fumes, mist, or dust.
“One thing that’s really important that’s in there is they’re trying to create a better work environment,” said Cora Roelofs, an occupational health specialist at UMass-Lowell who has worked closely with the local Vietnamese community and the public health commission.
In a report in conjunction with VietAID, a community development organization based in Fields Corner, Roelofs and others wrote, “Toxic product ingredients, limited ventilation, and a lack of knowledge of hazards and appropriate controls characterize the nail salon work environment.”
The regulations also include requiring each salon to have at least one hand-washing sink located in or adjacent to the manicuring area and keep it in a sanitary condition; manicuring stations and foot baths would be disinfected after each client; and burning of candles or incense would be prohibited due to the nature of the chemicals being used.
Nail salons would be fined $100 for first violations of the statutes, and $200 for a second violation.
A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. at the commission’s 1010 Massachusetts Ave. office. The public health commission’s board could sign off on the final version of the regulations at its Jan. 13, 2011 meeting. The rules would take effect 90 days after approval. A Vietnamese interpreter will be available at the hearing.
A copy of the regulations – in both English and Vietnamese -- is available at bphc.org/boardofhealth/regulations.