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EPA Aims to Lessen Potential Chemical Risks to Vietnamese Nail Salon Workers at July 18 Workshops - Vietnamese comprise 35 to 40 percent of nail salon workers in U.S., most do not speak or read English in D.C.

Release Date: 7/12/2005
Contact Information: Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

PHILADELPHIA – If you have your nails done at one of the thousands of nail salons in the U.S., chances are your nail technician could be Vietnamese. And you may also notice a distinct chemical odor from the nail products used in the salon.

Nationally, Vietnamese salons make up 35 to 40 percent of the nail salons in this country. The technicians, often women who speak limited English, frequently work 10 to 12 hours a day in poorly ventilated rooms with hazardous and volatile chemicals from nail hardeners, artificial nails, polishes, drying agents, and polish removers.

In addition to breathing vapors, nail technicians can be exposed to toxins through contact with the skin and ingestion. Overexposure to the chemicals in nail products are associated with occupational asthma, eye and skin irritation, neurological effects such as headache, dizziness, nausea, and reproductive disorders.

It is also not uncommon to find children playing in the work area or in the back room of some nail salons. These children, too, are exposed to the chemicals found in most nail products.

On July 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic region will host two workshops in the Washington, D.C. area for Vietnamese workers and owners of nail salons. The goal of the workshop is to educate owners and workers what they can do to make a safer work place.

“This initiative is a giant step forward in reducing and minimizing chemical exposure among Asian Americans who work in the nail salon industry – many of whom are immigrants without English language skills,” said Donald S. Welsh, regional administrator for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

One of the most important documents to any nail salon worker is the material safety data sheet, which nail product manufacturers and suppliers are required to provide to the buyers. The sheet explains the risks, precautions and response actions related to exposure to a particular hazardous chemical, both during normal work shifts and in emergency situations.

While these safety data sheets may be available in nail salons, they are usually written in English. As a result, it is difficult for Vietnamese technicians to understand these important information sheets.

Lisa Pham, an EPA engineer, will conduct the workshop entirely in Vietnamese and attendees will receive materials and handouts, which have been translated into Vietnamese. EPA has offered this workshop in other cities with large Vietnamese populations including San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. Feedback is always positive. Attendees have said that the materials, written in their own language, are extremely helpful.

During the workshop, attendees will learn – in their own language – many easy methods that they could adopt to protect themselves without incurring any cost. For example, by closing nail care product containers when not in use or getting only the amount of chemicals needed for each application, nail technicians could minimize breathing in the chemicals. Also, by washing hands before and after working on each customer, or simply putting on long-sleeved clothing, nail technicians could protect their skin from being exposed to the chemicals.

Everyone who attends the EPA workshops is placed on a mailing list and receives periodic updates on proper chemical handling.

EPA’s nail salon initiative began in 1999 with outreach to the Vietnamese community in Houston.

EPA’s business assistance center and EPA’s Asian Pacific Advisory Council are hosting the workshops in the D.C. area, and working with the local Vietnamese community.

The D.C. area workshops will be held at 1 and 6 p.m. at Mason District Government Center, 6507 Columbia Pike, Annandale, Va. 22003. Phone Number: 703-256-7717.

For more information, go to EPA’s website: