Oregon Board News - April 2007

How’s the Air in There? 

Our five-part series on salon safety, health and infection control concludes with a look at indoor air quality in the cosmetology industry, particularly indoor air quality in nail salons.   

The first four columns in the series focused on the importance of (and regulatory requirements related to) hand washing, disinfection and disposal and infection control, as well as Oregon’s success in preventing infection outbreaks from footbaths in nail salons.   

Is the air in cosmetology facilities, particularly nail salons, safe to breathe?  Are state regulations doing enough to protect both salon workers and customers? 

While former Vice President Al Gore hasn’t starred in an Oscar-winning documentary on indoor air quality, the quality of the air we breathe at home and work may be as important from an individual standpoint as global climate change is from a, well, global perspective. 

The news media has reported for years on “sick building syndrome” among employees in buildings where the indoor air may contain pollutants associated with respiratory problems and other illnesses.  Part of the “green building” movement has focused on materials, products and systems that provide clean, fresh air to building interiors. 

Oregon’s nearly 5,000 cosmetology facilities are required to comply not only with cosmetology regulations but also with “all applicable regulations” related to public health and safety.   

OHLA, OSHA and Beyond 

In addition to checking for compliance in other regulatory areas, enforcement officers from the Oregon Health Licensing Agency (OHLA) inspect cosmetology facilities across the state to see if they are correctly storing, handling, dispensing and disposing of chemicals as well as providing adequate ventilation.  (Please see related Oregon Administrative Rules highlighted on this page.) 

If OHLA enforcement officers find potential violations of the Oregon Safe Employment Act when an employee/ employer relationship exists, OHLA refers those cases to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA).  Oregon OSHA has the authority to force compliance to protect employees from hazardous conditions. 

OHLA enforcement officers also refer violations of the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act to the Department of Human Services, Health Services.  This law prohibits smoking in public areas. 

The interest in indoor air quality is strong enough to generate interest from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), even though DEQ doesn’t necessarily regulate indoor air quality.  

“It was something that seemed to be slipping through the cracks,” says Patricia Huback from DEQ’s Air Quality Division. 

Huback has proposed a statewide project focused on nail salons to raise awareness about the potential health and environmental risks associated with exposure to the chemicals used in salons.  The project would also retrofit salons to improve ventilation and reduce exposure to those chemicals. 

Huback told me that Oregon would be one of the first of several states to focus on nail salon indoor
air quality.   

Environmental Groups Interested 

Unfortunately, Huback’s proposal wasn’t approved by DEQ because the agency’s statutory authority is limited to outdoor air quality.  Huback hasn’t given up, though, and has elicited interest from local environmental organizations. 

“While DEQ can’t carry out such a project, we can act as a technical advisor,” she says. 

Huback has also reached out to organizations that provide services to new immigrants to Oregon, particularly Vietnamese nail salon employees whose first language may not be English.  

“Nail salon workers are exposed to chemicals, some hazardous, for long periods of time and might be unaware of the potential health and environmental risks associated with them,” Huback says.  “The goal of the project is to educate salon employees on how to reduce exposure while improving ventilation and disposal of these chemicals.” 

Chemicals of Concern 

Huback says that acetone, formaldehyde, toluene, ethyl methacrylate (EMA), methyl methacrylate (MMA) and dibutyl phthalate are chemicals used in nail salons, some of which are hazardous. 

While using MMA is a violation of Oregon cosmetology regulations, salons may use the other chemicals, which are found in polishes, acrylics, glues, laminates and disinfectants. 

And while there are conflicting opinions on the level of risk, particularly for customers, who aren’t exposed to these chemicals on a day-to-day, long-term basis, I would think that it’s better to be “safe than sorry” when you and your customer’s health may be at stake. 

And until Huback’s project gets off the ground, cosmetology facilities, particularly nail salons, should at the very least check to see if they are in compliance with existing regulations.   

Then maybe we can all breathe easier. 

Kraig Bohot is Communications Officer at the Oregon Health Licensing Agency (OHLA), a state consumer protection agency providing centralized regulatory oversight of multiple health and related professions.  He can be reached at (503) 378-8667, ext. 4330 or at kraig.bohot@state.or.us.


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