Working Healthy

Something In The Air - Keeping Salon Air Healthy

Are airborne chemical vapors giving you a headache? Implement your own salon “Clean Air Act” by investing in a local ventilation system.

Do you know if the air quality in your salon is healthful? Test your clean air IQ with our true/false quiz:

  1. A good heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system will keep indoor air healthful for workers.
  2. Low-odor and odor-free products are healthier than traditional products for salon air quality.
  3. A free-standing air cleaner that cleans 250 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm) will clean 2,500 cubic feet of air in just 10 minutes (10 ´ 250 = 2,500).
  4. Local exhaust ventilation is the most effective means to remove air contaminants from the salon.

You’ve probably already guessed that you were being set up, but do you know which, if any, of the four statements are true? The answer is number 4: local exhaust ventilation not only the most effective means to remove air contaminants  from the salon, but it is the only means to remove them before they enter your breathing zone, where you could inhale them. To ensure good ventilation, indoor air specialists and industrial hygienists recommend that salon supplement their HVAC systems with local exhaust ventilation.

Ventilation Basics

Any industry that uses chemicals must make good ventilation a primary concern. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), general ventilation is a combination of processes that brings fresh air in and removes contaminated air. In most homes and offices, HVAC systems do the trick (and are required in all commercial buildings), but alone they aren’t adequate for the salon.

General ventilation systems control pollen and dust and keep the air from getting stale, explains Doug Schoon, chemist and executive director of Chemical Awareness Training Services in Newport Beach, Calif. “Paints, carpets, and furniture give off trace amounts of vapors. General ventilation systems are designed to take care of these trace vapors and to keep carbon dioxide from building up. They are not designed for industrial use, says Schoon.

While you may not consider the salon environment where you use nail products “industrial,” it is when it comes to your ventilation needs. A 1994 study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) titled “Control of Ethyl Methacrylate Exposures During the Application of Artificial Fingernails” found that nail technicians’ exposure to ethyl methacrylate (the monomer, or liquid component of acrylic systems) are well below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) permissible exposue levels for industrial workers. At the same time, the report states, “It appears that some technicians are adversely affected by the chemical exposures associated with artificial nail application … many nail technicians have frequent headaches, burning nose and eyes, and irritation from dust on the neck and face.” Fortunately, these symptoms can be eliminated by removing their cause – chemical vapors and dust in the air.

Even if the chemical vapors don’t bother nail technicians, they might bother customers or surrounding businesses. Just recently NAILS heard from Dream Nails in South Africa. Its franchise in Claremont, Cape Town, has been fielding complaints from neighboring shop owners about the odor of its products. Franchise owner Christeen Calothi has had repeated visits from the labor department, which regulates exposure to chemicals in the workplace. Now, a client has complained to the health department about the odor of the products. As a result, the health inspector is investigating clients’ and technicians’ exposures to chemicals used in the salon.

Closer to home, John Martyny, a certified industrial hygienist with the Tri-County Health Department in Denver, says his department receives at least one complaint a month about the odor of nail products from businesses located near nail salons.

Spot-Cleaning Works Best

To ensure salon air is healthy for everyone, salons need an adjunct ventilation system in addition to an HVAC system. Adjunct ventilation systems encompass air cleaners, filters, and spot ventilation (which includes local exhaust ventilation). The most effective adjunct system is spot ventilation, which removes pollutants at their source and prevents contamination of air in your breathing space.

“Spot ventilation is akin to a fan over your stove or a bathroom fan. It handles the air contaminants your general ventilation system can’t,” says John Zierer, staff liaison for the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in Atlanta, Ga.

With spot ventilation, you can choose an adjunct system that removes contaminated air at the source of contamination, filters the air, then returns it to the salon, or a local exhaust system that removes the contaminated air and exhausts it out of the salon. The most effective means is local exhaust ventilation, says Martyny. Amy Beasley Spencer, the chemical engineer who conducted the ethyl methacrylate study for NIOSH and wrote the report, says ethyl methacrylate levels measured in technicians’ breathing zones were 10 times higher when the local exhaust ventilation was turned off than when it was on.

Local exhaust is recommended over other adjunct systems because once the air is vented out of the salon, you don’t have to worn’ about it anymore. With systems that filter the air, there are too many variables that can cause the system to function poorly. For example, NIOSH purchased for its study a vented manicure table that was supposed to remove contaminants at the source, filter the air, and return it to the salon environment. However, the table’s ventilation system did not work, says Spencer. Its problems were many: Leaks were detected around the charcoal filter in the table (allowing air to escape before it reached the filter); there was no warning indicator for when the filter needed replacing; airflow across the down-draft opening was uneven; and the down-draft airflow was inadequate for removing contaminated air.

Even tables without these design flaws have another fundamental flaw: Many charcoal and carbon filters just aren’t up to the job. “There needs to be a one-to two-inch-thick bed of packed charcoal for the filter to remove vapors from the air,” says Bud Offerman, president of Indoor Environmental Engineering in San Francisco, Calif. “You can’t do it with a rinky-dink filter that’s carbon-impregnated.”

What’s true for vented tables is true for freestanding air cleaners and purifiers. An additional drawback of freestanding units, says Spencer, is that they’re usually too far from where the contaminants enter the air. “You’re trying to remove the contaminant before it gets in anybody’s breathing zone,” she says.

Martyny explains the difference between systems that exhaust the air and systems that clean the air: “Say you use White Out at your desk. If you use the White Out over a grate in your desk that pulls the air through the grating and out of the building, the vapors never pass through your breathing zone. Instead, the vapors get caught by the collection system and 100% of that air is taken outside. That’s how local exhaust works,” he explains.

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