By Ngoc Kim Le, Esq.
Vietnamese women have taken over the nail salon business. What? Youre not surprised? Of course not. Its hard to walk into a nail salon where the manicurist is not Vietnamese. In fact, according to an LA Times article published in 2008, 80% of all nail technicians in California are Vietnamese. While its well known that Vietnamese women have dominated the nail salon industry, it is not well known that breast cancer is the leading cancer among Vietnamese women. Is there a link between prolonged exposure to nail polish ingredients and cancer? Researchers are trying to find out.
Many nail products may contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, and toluene and dibutyl phthalate, which have been linked to miscarriages and birth defects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, has not banned the use of such ingredients in nail products because the percentages of those ingredients are below the threshold considered unsafe for human use.
In reaction to the FDAs seemingly passive stance on the issue, groups such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have lobbied Congress for stricter regulations of the FDA. Representative Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a bill called the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 on June 24, 2011 which sought to amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and require the establishment of labeling requirements, safety standards, manufacturing guidance, and lists for safe and unsafe ingredients. Unfortunately, the bill was stalled in Committee.
Even though the FDA has not banned the use of certain ingredients in nail polish because of the relatively low amount of carcinogenic chemicals, many nail salon workers have increased exposure to those chemicals for prolonged periods of time. While policy makers are trying to reform cosmetics laws, researchers have taken to nail salons to interview nail technicians and find a possible link between working in nail salons and incidences of cancer and other diseases.
The California Breast Cancer Research Program interviewed 200 Vietnamese women in Alameda County in a pilot study. They found that a majority experienced some health problem as a result of working in the industry, particularly acute health problems that are likely associated with high-level solvent exposure, such as skin and eye irritation, breathing difficulties, headaches and asthma. The researchers believe that the health problems are likely to be work-related since symptoms subsided when the workers were away from work for more than one day. While they were not able to find a direct causal relationship between chemicals found in these nail salons and cancer at that stage, they believed that further investigation was necessary because of the combination of routine use of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, prevalent health concerns about such chemicals, high level of acute health problems, and the predominance of Vietnamese female immigrant workers.
Health dangers have not been limited to products used in nail salons. In fact, about 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States are largely unregulated and insufficiently studied for safety, and more than 74 billion pounds of chemical products are produced or imported into the country each day. This is still relevant particularly to Vietnamese women because there are many Vietnamese-owned and operated businesses that use cosmetological and other products which may contain dangerous chemicals.
The manufacturer of the popular hair straightening product called Brazilian Blowout just settled a $4.5 million class action against it. There were complaints from stylists that the product was causing nosebleeds, breathing problems and eye irritation. The product emits formaldehyde gas when heated. Consumers will still be able to get Brazilian Blowout, but the manufacturer can no longer represent it as formaldehyde-free and will have to give detailed instructions for safe use.
Bringing a toxic tort claim for injuries resulting from exposure to dangerous chemicals is complex. In Bockrath v Aldrich Chem. Co. (1999) 21 C4th 71, 80, 86 CR2d 846, the court found that to prove causation when harm is caused by long-term exposure to products containing multiple toxic substances, there must be proof that the product was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury, and that proof must be established to a reasonable medical probability. And in order to bring the case in the first place, you have to identify each product, the toxins it contains, and the specific illnesses resulting from exposure. Bringing such cases are expensive and time-consuming. They typically require expert witnesses, like doctors, and extensive searches for other possible plaintiffs to join in a class action.That raises the litigation costs significantly. On the other hand, although bringing such cases can be long and complicated, the potential payouts can be substantial.
Additionally, the action must be brought within the applicable time limit. Under California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.8(a), you have to file a suit within two years of when you get hurt or when you realized or should have realized that you were injured and what may have caused it.It may be difficult to figure out exactly when you “should have” known about an injury and what may have caused it, so anything that triggers your attention or causes your first awareness should not be taken lightly and should prompt you to take the appropriate actions, including, but not limited to, contacting an attorney.If there is a death caused by exposure to such chemicals, California Code of Civil Procedure section 340.8(b) requires that the case must be brought within two years of the death or the first date the person suing on behalf of the decedent knew or should have known of the cause of death.
A person that is harmed by a product can sue any person or entity that participated in making or marketing the defective product or in placing it in the stream of commerce, including the manufacturer, distributors, and retailers, regardless of which entity created the defect. This means that you can sue the maker of the product, the people who brought it to the stores, and even the stores who sold it.
If you believe that you have been injured by a cosmetic product, it is best to consult an attorney as soon as possible to discuss whether you have a case that can be pursued.