Flare-up scrutinized

State investigates fire from heated acetone that burns woman at salon

April 14, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

Two state agencies have launched investigations of a Northwest Baltimore salon where a woman was badly burned Saturday after a bowl of heated acetone ignited while she was having her artificial nails removed.

The action by Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state Board of Cosmetologists comes two days after Niquita Andrews, 35, was burned at the Nail Studio in the 5400 block of Reisterstown Road.

The Owings Mills woman had been soaking her hands in a small machine that heated acetone when the flammable chemical ignited, said Kevin Cartwright, a Baltimore fire spokesman. The liquid splashed onto Andrews' arms and hands and into her lap, causing second-degree burns on 40 percent of her body, he said. Cartwright said his department is still determining what ignited the acetone.

Andrews remained at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in fair condition, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday. She couldn't be reached for comment.

Dori Berman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations, which encompasses both investigating agencies, said the cosmetology board was looking for any violations after the customer was injured. Although MOSH is not required to investigate because no employees were hurt, "the implication of a woman being hurt in this situation implies that workers were also at risk," Berman said.

A man who identified himself as Tony Nguyen at the Nail Studio declined to be interviewed Monday because he said he did not speak English.

Berman said the Nail Studio can remain open while the investigations proceed. No violations were found during a routine inspection of the Nail Studio on March 12, Berman said. State regulations do not mention heating acetone.

Bill Grabau, a MOSH senior industrial hygienist who oversees the program's inspectors, said acetone is a common, flammable solvent considered generally safe, depending on the concentration and length of exposure. But a spark - such as one from static electricity or removing a plug from an outlet - could ignite it, Grabau said.

Warming acetone is not recommended and doesn't appear to be common, although some nail technicians have been known to heat it in a microwave, despite warnings.

"The incidents I hear about are few and far between but, unfortunately, it has been known to happen," Hannah Lee, editor of Nails magazine, said about acetone-related fires.

Using an electrical appliance to heat acetone "would make me kind of nervous," said Lee, whose industry magazine is based in California.

Labels on acetone and nail polish remover bottles state that it is highly flammable. However, "the idea is that a warmer acetone works quicker," Lee said. Placing a bowl of acetone within a container of warm water can help it break down the acrylic nail faster, Lee said. Even body heat speeds the process - the magazine's stylists often cover nails with a cotton ball soaked in acetone and wrap the fingertips in aluminum foil to remove acrylic tips after a photo shoot, the editor said.

Heating the acetone increases the amount of vapors, which can cause dizziness and irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin, depending on the concentration and duration of exposure, Grabau said.

"From my understanding, from what I've seen in other nail salons, it's not generally heated," he said. "To the best of our knowledge, we've never seen it being heated before."

Grabau said that MOSH inspects nail salons when an employee complains but has never found overexposure of air contaminants. More common violations include employers failing to train employees as required about hazards, or concerns about blood-borne pathogens or the absence of personal protective equipment such as gloves.

Long-term exposure to salon chemicals such as acetone has been a concern of environmental groups and advocates for Asian immigrants, who make up a large percentage of nail salon employees. Two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, have examined the issue.

In Maryland, beauty salons are required to be well-ventilated, and nail technicians must pass a certification test that includes a section on chemical safety, Berman said.

Lee, the Nails editor, said the majority of salons follow sanitation and safety requirements and consumers should use their judgment to determine whether to patronize a business.

"If you feel like they're not doing something right and they're not doing something legitimate, you need to be your own best advocate," she said.

Sun reporter Gus Sentementes contributed to this article.

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