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Airing it out: Madison’s Aerovex Systems helps salon patrons breathe easy

When people talk these days about saving the environment, they usually mean the air, water, and land that make up the great outdoors. But while Jeff Cardarella is more attuned than most to the challenges faced by the environment on a grand scale, in his professional life, he’s been more focused on saving the indoor environment.

The owner of Madison’s Aerovex Systems, Cardarella is on a mission to clean up the air in salons – air that many salon patrons and workers are forced to breathe for extended periods of time.

“Most of the salon [owners] use their sense of smell to determine if there’s a problem,” said Cardarella. “They’re actually waiting for the client to tell them that they have a problem. They think that’s an acceptable part of the salon experience. It always has been until now. That’s changing. When you walk in the door and you smell strong odor, that’s not necessary. With proper ventilation, there should be no appreciable difference between the fresh air outside and the fresh air in the salon.”

Cardarella has been in business for 24 years, but interest in his salon air-purification systems increased dramatically last year when Oregon OSHA investigated keratin-based hair-smoothing products after stylists reported potential problems resulting from hair treatments.

“In October a year ago, OSHA inspected stylist-reported symptoms from exposure to these treatments to OSHA, and OSHA investigated and there was this big blowup,” said Cardarella. “And Brazilian Blowout, the product, was investigated by OSHA, and they alerted everyone to the health hazard. So the industry was just flying along for five years, and then when this hit, our business started picking up considerably. Everyone was interested in how to ventilate to fix this problem. ... We were working weeknights and weekends, and the phone was ringing off the hook.”

Cardarella said that since then, there has not been a lot of guidance to the industry, though the industry has formed the Professional Keratin Smoothing Council – of which Aerovex is a founding member – to try to educate professionals and consumers about safety issues related to the use of the products. More recently, in September, the FDA warned the makers of Brazilian Blowout about the levels of formaldehyde in its product.

For its part, Aerovex says that proper work practices, including proper ventilation, can make such hair-smoothing services safe to customers and salon workers, but it remains to be seen how the regulatory landscape will unfold.

In line with the mission

But while formaldehyde in keratin-based products has only recently become an issue in the salon industry, true to his nature, Cardarella is ahead of the curve, and has been working on salon safety and air quality for years. This follows his work in protecting nail technicians from ambient-air problems, and in protecting professional printers. To Cardarella, it’s not just a business – it’s a passion.

“We advocate for the stylists and technicians to be progressive about their health, because there’s this tendency to believe that the government will take care of you because of the regulations that are in place,” said Cardarella. “That’s not so. We strongly advocate that they become aware and knowledgeable about control measures to protect their health, and those control measures include proper ventilation.

“It’s a neglected area, and has been, so we’re ushering in appropriate ventilation for the salon industry on the coattails of this hair-smoothing segment. But it’s a whole cocktail of chemical vapors and dust in the salon that already exists, besides the formaldehyde that’s coming out of this hair-smoothing application.”

Cardarella’s work in this area dovetails with his personal philosophy of protecting the air we all breathe, as well as the environment as a whole. He’s a big advocate for clean air, clean water, nutrition, and a simple lifestyle. For instance, last year, he put less than 3,000 miles on his car, preferring to bike as much as possible.

“If I was in business just to make money, there’s a lot easier ways to do it,” said Cardarella. “Putting pollution in the air is a lot more profitable than taking it out, so I’m dedicated to this because of the need.”

And that need is ongoing, says Cardarella, whether or not OSHA or the FDA decide to get involved.

“People rely on what you see and what you smell, but the dangers are in what you don’t see and what you don’t smell,” said Cardarella. “A lot of chemical vapors are dangerous to breathe that are odorless. A lot of dust that you breathe is invisible. It’s microscopic. So it’s becoming more aware about what you’re breathing and not relying on your sense of smell. This is not about removing odor, it’s about providing proper ventilation and providing clean air. And that’s not just an obvious thing, you have to become educated about that.”

Clean your house, clean up the environment

While Aerovex is committed to keeping the air clean in many indoor environments, it’s also got an interest in making mountains into molehills when it comes to the size of landfills.

To that end, the company is working on a launderable, magnetic wiping cloth that’s similar to a product it sold to printers back in the ‘90s.

“During the interim, I watched products like Swiffer come to the marketplace that were disposable,” said Cardarella, “and way back when I tried to market this product to the consumer, but because it didn’t end up in the landfill you couldn’t commercialize it. A lot of products I’ve been involved with you can’t commercialize because to commercialize them, you have to be able to dispose of them. You have to sell them over and over again. They’re too good. Hard to believe, but it’s true. But now that the environment is riper for considering what we put in the landfill, that can be changed.

“So I’m really excited about this new product to eliminate chemicals and to prevent the landfills from being filled with unnecessary paper towel waste.”

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