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‘Dangerous for workers’: Study looks at air quality in Colorado nail salons

Photo: TatianaNurieva/iStockphoto

Boulder, CO — The amount of air pollutants in nail salons can make working in one comparable to working at an oil refinery or in an auto repair garage, according to a study from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Researchers from the university’s department of civil, environmental and architectural engineering monitored levels of volatile organic compounds in six nail salons in the state. Workers studied averaged 52.5 hours a week, and some worked as many as 80 hours.

The most common chemicals salon workers were exposed to were formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, xylenes and ethylbenzene. All six salons had higher-than-expected levels of benzene, which has been linked to leukemia and other cancers of blood cells, according to the American Cancer Society. In one salon, the formaldehyde levels exceeded NIOSH recommendations for exposure limit.

The researchers found that 70% of the workers experienced at least one health issue from the chemical exposures, with headaches (22%), skin irritation (16%) and eye irritation (14%) the most commonly reported.

Chronic air pollution can cause health problems, including an increased risk for cancers such as leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The researchers said salon workers face a lifetime cancer risk up to 100 times higher than baseline Environmental Protection Agency-issued levels.

“The study provides some of the first hard evidence that these environments are dangerous for workers and that better policies need to be enacted to protect them,” lead study author and research associate Lupita Montoya said in a May 7 press release.


The researchers noted that volatile organic compounds can be removed with low-cost, absorbent materials such as heat-treated coal and wood, along with jets that direct air toward the carbon materials.

The study was published in the June issue of the journal Environmental Pollution.

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