EarthTalk: Are there any environmental or human
health risks to using nail polish?
-- Deborah Lynn, Milford, CT
Conventional nail polishes dispensed at most drugstores and
nail salons contain a veritable witch’s brew of chemicals,
including toluene, which has been linked to a wide range of
health issues from simple headaches and eye, ear, nose and
throat irritation to nervous system disorders and damage to
the liver and kidneys.
Another common yet toxic ingredient in conventional nail polish
is a chemical plasticizer known as dibutyl phthalate (DBP).
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit
research and advocacy organization that campaigns to educate
consumers about the health risks of cosmetics, studies have
linked DBP to underdeveloped genitals and other reproductive
system problems in newborn boys.
As such, DBP is banned from cosmetics in the European Union
but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States
has taken no such action, even though a recent study by the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found DBP
and other toxic phthalates in the bloodstreams of every person
they tested. Further, five percent of women tested who were
of childbearing age (ages 20-40) had up to 45 times more of
the chemicals in their bodies than researchers had expected
EWG attributes the prevalence of DBP in young women to widespread
use of nail polish. “Women of childbearing age should
avoid all exposure to DBP when they’re considering becoming
pregnant, when they’re pregnant, or when they’re
nursing,” says Jane Houlihan, EWG’s Vice President
Luckily, safer nail polishes do exist and are readily available
at natural health and beauty supply stores as well as from
online outlets such as Natural Solutions and Infinite Health
Resources. These products, from such makers as Honeybee Gardens,
PeaceKeeper, Jerrie, Visage Naturel and Sante, rely on naturally
occurring minerals and plant extracts to beautify nails without
the need for toxic ingredients.
Major nail polish manufacturers are also now getting in on
the act. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition
of organizations that includes EWG and the Breast Cancer Fund,
Avon, Estee Lauder, Revlon and L’Oreal confirmed last
year that they would begin removing DBP from products. And
leading drugstore brand Sally Hansen has said it is reformulating
all of its products to remove DBP and toluene as well as formaldehyde,
which is also known to cause cancer and reproductive problems.
Exposure to toxic chemicals is not the only health concern
associated with nail salons, where nail fungus and bacteria
can lurk on the underside of any emery board. Women’s
health advocate Tracee Cornforth suggests checking out a salon
for cleanliness before signing up for services. She also says
to make sure attendants disinfect all tools and equipment
between customers, and even recommends bringing in one’s
own manicure or pedicure kit so as to minimize the transmission
of any unsightly or painful maladies.
CONTACTS: Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org;
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, www.SafeCosmetics.org;
Natural Solutions, www.bewellstaywell.com;
Infinite Health Resources, www.infinitehealthresources.com.
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
nail polishes contain a veritable witch’s brew of chemicals,
but safe, non-toxic alternatives are available.
I read a disturbing report recently that the long-banned
pesticide, DDT, was being used in Mozambique to combat malaria.
Malaria is a killer, but isn't a return to DDT even scarier?
-- Graeme Campbell, South Africa
Much of the developed world banned the use of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane)
within about 10 years of the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s
book, “Silent Spring.” Carson’s book, which
is credited by many as having spurred the creation of the
modern environmental movement, documented the ecosystem damage
caused by DDT crop spraying throughout the United States and
linked the pesticide’s use to the disappearance of songbirds
Health officials at the time also linked DDT exposure to nerve
damage in humans, and blamed DDT for causing cancer in people
who had applied it recklessly. Today, because of widespread
indiscriminate use up through the 1960s, most people have
traces of DDT in their bodies. DDT has since become increasingly
associated with childhood developmental problems, according
to the organization, Beyond Pesticides (BP).
Today, two dozen countries--including Mozambique and nine
other African nations--permit the use of small amounts of
DDT for controlling specific insect-borne diseases, including
malaria. Malaria kills one million people, including 800,000
African children, every year. Dr. Arata Kochi, leader of the
World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) global malaria
program, strongly advocates using DDT to fight malaria, claiming
that it poses little or no health risk when sprayed in small
amounts on the inner walls of people’s homes.
“Indoor residual spraying is useful to quickly reduce
the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes…and
presents no health risk when used properly,” agrees
Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO’s assistant director-general
for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Asamoa-Baah insists
that DDT’s public health benefits far outweigh its risks.
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, disagrees
and advocates for techniques that do not rely on pesticides
like DDT. “The international community has a social
responsibility to reject the use of this chemical and to practice
sound and safe pest management practices,” he says.
Feldman cites a recent study showing South African women living
in DDT-treated dwellings to have 77 times the internationally
accepted limit of the chemical in their breast milk. Researchers
postulate that large amounts of DDT may have contaminated
drinking water, exposing entire villages. “This highlights
why no society can be unconcerned with DDT’s impact”
on health and the worldwide ecosystem, Feldman says.
Feldman is calling for alternative strategies for disease
control, including addressing the conditions of poverty that
lead to mosquito breeding. We should “no longer treat
poverty and development with poisonous band-aids, but join
together to address the root causes of insect-borne disease,
because the chemical-dependent alternatives are ultimately
deadly for everyone,” says Feldman.
CONTACTS: Beyond Pesticides, www.beyondpesticides.org;
World Health Organization Malaria Information, www.who.int/topics/malaria/en/.
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