Touchy Toluene: Avoid it for Your Hands and Your Lands

toluene2There’s nothing like sinking yourself hands first into a fresh patch of soil, feeling the dirt collect under your nails, getting that sweet fresh Earth smell onto your skin. As you enjoy interacting with your garden arms first, stop for a moment to consider what you’re putting into the ground, and onto yourself. Lady gardeners (and trendsetting guys) who revel in a weekly manicure may enjoy flashing newly painted tips, but something as simple as nail polish may adversely affect your health and that of your garden.

Painting on the Problems

toluene1Toluene, a chemical found in some nail polishes, is one of what some US health agencies call The Toxic Trio (along with dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde). Inhalation of these chemicals may cause short term intoxication and dizziness. In fact, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics notes that toluene may be a developmental and reproductive toxin and the agency jumped on the bandwagon to start banning the toxic trio from being manufactured. Popular brand OPI, a salon favorite, initially refused to remove toluene, but it has since complied. As have others including low-cost brand Sally Hansen and Zoya.

The Fight Against Toluene

While the risk of your affecting your plants with your nail polish is slim, why take the chance at all? The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports that toluene can seep into soil and spread to contaminate nearby wells and streams. It also sticks around far longer than any manicure, lying dormant, especially when it is inches below the airline. A paper published by The Dow Chemical Company as early as 1996 notes that soil exposure to toluene can increase the number of degrading organisms within the soil. Are those sparkly tips worth it?

Protect Your Plants

Worry over your favorite flower bed shouldn’t prevent you from getting your thumbs – and eight other fingers – painted, or giving yourself a home manicure. Inquire whether your salon uses polishes containing the toxic trio, check the packaging, and educate yourself by using those soon-to-be green, purple, black or sparkly fingers by visiting polish manufacturers’ websites. Polishes that are non-toxic for you and your plants abound.

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