April 19, 2018

Harris, Cortez Masto Introduce Legislation to Shine Light on Hazardous Occupational Exposures

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the Environmental Justice Right to Know Act – legislation to address shortcomings in the disclosure of ingredients in pesticides and personal care products. Workers who handle these personal care products—in hair salons, nail salons, and agricultural settings—are often women from low-income communities or communities of color. These workers are more likely than the general population to experience negative health effects. Current law lacks clarity regarding the disclosure of the ingredients in these products and protecting vulnerable populations from harmful health effects.

“Workers at nail salons, hair salons, and other industries that handle harmful chemicals and pesticides have the right to be informed about the products they are exposed to in order to ensure the health and safety of their communities,” said Senator Harris. “Companies have a moral responsibility to provide labels – in multiple languages – to safeguard immigrant and communities of color. We must also invest in research to examine the effects of personal care products, because we do know that these chemicals harm people. Everyone deserves the ability to breathe clean air, drink clean water and know what’s in the products that are around them every day.”

“In many service, manufacturing, and agricultural jobs, workers are unaware of the dangers of chemicals in the products they use to do their work,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “Workers must know exactly what potential health hazards come with products they use in the workplace so that they can take the necessary precautions to stay safe. Unfortunately, workers who are often from low-income or communities of color are exposed to harmful chemicals due to poor labeling or lack of transparency from manufacturers. I am proud to support a bill that prioritizes the health of workers across the nation by requiring better labeling and improving occupational safety standards.”

The Environmental Justice Right to Know Act would:

  • Strengthen Pesticide Labeling Requirements: Directs the EPA to require Spanish translations of all essential safety and environmental information on pesticide products including: warnings and precautionary statements; information on exposure symptoms, toxicity levels, first aid, personal protective equipment, and Restricted Entry Intervals (REIs); general safe handling and usage directions; storage and disposal instructions and other directions to prevent environmental contamination. 
  • NIOSH Ventilation Research Requirements: Ventilation systems and mechanisms that ventilate the chemicals and dust particles away from the breathing zone of workers are needed. Directs the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct further research on ventilation in nail and hair salons and report on the level of ventilation necessary for health protective ambient air and breathing zone air quality for workers in salons.
  • Require Accessibility of Information to Employees: Requires that safety data sheets (SDS) of all cosmetic and personal products used by nail, hair, barber and other beauty professionals be available on the manufacturer or product maker website and ensure they be easily accessed via the name of the specific product line. Requires that all SDS for products used in the professional beauty salon industry be translated into languages spoken by a significant number of professionals including Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, and Nepali.
  • Establish an Employee Training Program: The Secretary of Labor shall assure that the hazards facing nail and hair salon workers are included as a targeted topic for training in any future announcements of OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grants.
  • Research Effects of Personal Care Products: Directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to issue a report to Congress on the long-term negative health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals, carcinogens, neurotoxicants and asthmagens in beauty and personal care products on the health of women of color and other highly impacted communities.

The Environmental Justice Right to Know Act is endorsed by the National Hispanic Medical Association, National Council of Asian and Pacific Islander Physicians, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative

"The National Hispanic Medical Association fully supports Senator Kamala Harris’ bill, Environmental Justice Right to Know Act of 2018,” said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, President & CEO, National Hispanic Medical Association. “Most domestic, agricultural & hair & nail salon employees are from racial/ethnic minorities who should be informed about the chemical exposure in their workplace and subsequent illnesses they disproportionately face."

“As a national organization focused solely on preventing breast cancer by eliminating the environmental links to the disease, we know how important it is to shine a light on unsafe occupational exposures that are being linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and other serious health conditions,” said Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. “People that work with pesticides and nail and hair salon products have been denied the right to know about the presence and the safety of the chemicals they are being exposed to for too long.”

“As physicians treating Asian American communities we have known about the need for safer government standards in nail salons and other places where harmful chemicals are used," said Dr. Ho Tran, president & CEO of the National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians. "These are places where many Asian and other minorities work. People have the right to know about potential hazards, must be informed via their language, and employers should be informed and given support on how to do this. The Right to Know Act tackles all of these issues and NCAPIP wholeheartedly supports it, and applauds Senator Harris's efforts towards better public health and health equity."

“We applaud Sen. Harris for introducing legislation to require Spanish translation of pesticide labels,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health, Farmworker Justice. “Workers exposed to toxic chemicals need safety information in a language they can read. Sen Harris's legislation would provide predominantly Spanish-speaking agricultural workers with vital information to prevent serious injuries and illnesses from pesticide poisoning.”

“This bill will be critical to the lives of thousands of salon workers who face a silent epidemic of health and reproductive health issues,” said Julia Liou, Chief Deputy of Administration at Asian Health Services and Director of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. “It will build upon what has been an important movement in California for healthy workplace environments and safer personal care products, particularly for nail salon workers who are predominantly low-income Asian immigrant women.”

Text of the Environmental Justice Right to Know Act is available here.