DENVER (CBS4) – New York’s governor created a task force to crack down on worker abuse in nail salons after a recent series in the New York Times found workers were forced to work long hours around toxic chemicals, and often with little pay. But in Colorado, investigations at nail salons don’t happen too often.

The Nail Bar in Denver bills itself as a natural hand and foot boutique with products like grapeseed oil. More salons like it are popping up nationwide as news of the chemicals in nail care products grows, and efforts to regulate them are blocked by the cosmetic industry.

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd spoke with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — and found investigations into nail salons in Colorado are very rare.

“I like products that don’t hurt you,” said Nail Bar owner Michelle Marchand.

Nail Bar owner Michelle Marchand shows off her toxic-free products (credit: CBS)

Nail Bar owner Michelle Marchand shows off her non-toxic products (credit: CBS)

Marchand has a fume free philosophy at the Nail Bar. Her products are not only non-toxic, she says people could eat most of them.

Marchand says she’s not surprised by the New York Times investigation finding workers at nail salons suffering from miscarriages, cancer and breathing problems after working around chemicals like formaldehyde and toluene for up to 12 hours a day with no breathing protection.

“To me it’s just too toxic and I don’t want to put myself through it,” she said.

The reporter who did the investigation, Sarah Maslin Nir, says workers are also being robbed of wages, and many don’t speak English and are too afraid to contact police.

“I believe I’m speaking about the majority of the salons in the industry,” said Maslin Nir. “In interviewing all these workers I found almost no good actors.”

In Colorado, OSHA, which handles complaints of unsafe workplaces, says it’s received very few complaints from nail technicians. But Marchand says the same toxic exposures in New York exist in nail salons in Colorado.

“The state cosmetology board needs to get more involved so that those workers have somewhere to go,” Marchand said. “It’s dangerous to me … I didn’t want to be a chemist, I wanted to do pretty nails.”

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine did a study in 2006 that included more than 500 manicurists in Colorado. It found those who worked with artificial nails were about three times more likely to get asthma than workers in other professions.

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