-By John Lynds
It’s one industry in East Boston that has operated for decades without the proper checks and balances. With public health and the health of workers at risk the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) voted last week to regulate nail salons here and in the rest of the city.
Seeking to protect the health and safety of workers and customers, the BPHC Board approved the proposal last Thursday that will allow the Health Commission to regulate nail salons in Boston, which will include requiring them to apply for an annual permit and undergo regular health inspections.
The new rule is intended to standardize the practices of nail salons to protect the health of nail technicians, clients, and visitors from the risk of injury or infection due to unsanitary conditions and exposure to hazardous chemicals, said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the BPHC. The regulation establishes minimum standards of cleanliness, safety, and sanitation that nail salons must now maintain.
“This is a big win for nail salon workers, most of whom are women and half of whom are of child-bearing age,’’ said Dr. Ferrer. “They often work long hours and can be exposed to hazardous chemicals that can affect their fertility and cause a whole host of health problems.’’
The board’s unanimous vote followed a 60-day public comment period, during which 31 written and oral comments were submitted, most of them in favor of the new regulation. The regulation, which will take effect on July 12, comes amid growing concern about the health and safety of nail salon workers and their clients.
Nail technicians are exposed to a myriad of potentially hazardous chemicals every day that can cause them to experience headaches, dizziness, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and infertility. Inadequate sterilization can lead to bacterial and fungal infections, and injuries among clients.
Boston Public Health officials estimate that there are somewhere between 200 and 300 nail salons, most of them in East Boston, downtown Boston and Dorchester, employing more than 1,400 people,.
The regulation requires the Boston Public Health to inspect and permit all nail salons in Boston. An owner of a nail salon found to be in violation of any provision of the regulation maybe fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation within a 12-month period, and $300 for the third and all subsequent violations within a 12- month period. Repeated violations may result in suspension or revocation of the salon’s permit to operate.
Boston health officials said the regulation is designed to address existing regulatory gaps by allowing better tracking of such establishments at the local level. They said it will complement existing state regulations.
Back in April 2011 East Boston resident Lynette Mendez filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Public Health as well as the Licensing Division for Cosmetology because she contracted a fungus after visiting a local nail salon.
Mendez claimed on March 27, she walked into the nail salon for a full set of nails at which point there was no damage to her nails. On April 11 she went in for a refill of the acrylics.
Then, on April 14 her fingers started burning and itching and as she looked at her hands she notice “puss” coming from her nails.
“After work I went back to the nail salon to see the owner,” she said. “I requested a refund as well as treatment for my nails. I was denied both and told its something I did to my nails.”
After leaving Mendez went to another nail shop to have the nails removed.
“They informed me that all of my nails were indeed infected and had fungus on them and I would need treatment,” she said. “I have been a resident of East Boston for 17 years, and believe in supporting local businesses in the community, however this needs to be public knowledge because they have a lot of clients that may have infections or fungus and not know it.”
The Licensing Division for Cosmetology said they are investigating Mendez’ claims.
Among the requirements of the regulation are;
• All chemicals used in the salon shall be properly labeled and stored, including chemicals that have been removed from their original containers.
• A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that lists the ingredients in each chemical and the risk of exposure must be kept on site and readily available for review by public health inspectors and salon employees.
• Multi-use tools, including manicuring instruments, must be cleaned and disinfected after each use.
• Single-use tools may not be reused.
• Foot spas must be sanitized before and after each client and at the end of the day.
• Nail technicians must wear impermeable gloves when handling chemicals that are potentially damaging to the skin or when performing any procedure that has a risk of breaking the client’s skin.