Nail polish labeled as non-toxic has chemicals linked to birth defects, report says

SAN FRANCISCO - MARCH 03: Linda Donly-Reid, a customer at JT Nails, uses a small fan to dry her nails after receiving a manicure March 3, 2006 in San Francisco. California Assembly Speaker pro Tem Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has renewed calls to pass new legislation to clean up unsanitary nail salons after a woman in Fort Worth, Texas died as a result of a staph infection caused by bacteria from a nail salon.

Some nail polish that is labeled as non-toxic actually has a combination of dangerous chemicals known as the "toxic trio," a new report in California has found. A Department of Toxic Substances Control report, to be released today, found that the mislabeled nail products could harm thousands of people, the Associated Press reported

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Many nail polish contains a combination of toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde, known as the toxic trio. Use of the chemicals is legal as long as the products are properly labeled. The nail polish companies making the false claims appear to be violating a state law, the AP said.

Investigators chose 25 brands at random, and found that 10 of 12 products claiming to be toluene-free actually did contain the chemical. And five of the seven products that claimed to not have the toxic trio actually did contain it. 

High levels of exposure to the chemicals are known to cause birth defects, asthma and other illnesses, ABC reported, putting people who work in nail salons or who regularly visit them most at risk.

Advocates have long voiced concerns about the 120,000 licensed nail technicians in California, the Los Angeles Times reported. Manicurists, who in California are mostly women from Vietnam, often work in salons that are poorly ventilated, increasing their exposure to the toxic trio.

Hue Nguyen, an immigrant from Vietnam, told the LA Times that she began working at a salon in 2004 because trade was easy to learn without requiring much English. But she soon developed headaches. In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"This is a major public health issue and it really interferes with workers' right to a healthy work environment," a spokesman from Asian Health Services in Oakland told the LA Times. "Workers shouldn't have to suffer health impacts because a manufacturer is making false claims."