Violations Found at Dozens of Linn and Johnson County Tanning Facilities

Vanessa Miller, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Health inspectors with Linn and Johnson counties found violations in dozens of tanning facilities during the most recent inspections, prompting public health officials to recheck some businesses and educate all of them on the importance of limiting tanning times, cleaning beds and maintaining equipment.

Nearly two-thirds of the 53 tanning facilities inspected by Linn County Public Health had violations, including letting customers tan longer than permitted or more often than allowed, according to a Gazette review of public tanning salon inspection records.

Businesses reviewed by Linn County health inspectors, who inspect facilities in Jones County too, also were reprimanded for not cleaning tanning beds as often as required, not having proper eye-wear procedures, failing to train employees and not posting warning signs.

Johnson County health inspectors, who review tanning salons in Johnson, Iowa and Louisa counties, likewise found violations in nearly half of the 46 tanning facilities they examined during their most recent round of inspections. Johnson County's violations ranged from incompatible bulbs in beds to inadequate cleaning practices and illegal signs promoting health benefits of tanning.

Such violations — particularly those allowing tanners to spend more time in a bed than recommended — can have damaging effects, according to public health officials. The World Health Organization last year issued a report on the mounting evidence that ultraviolet radiation emitted by tanning beds can cause skin damage and "increase the risk of developing skin cancer."

Tanning facilities with marred health inspections have 30 days to correct the problems and report back on what's been done to resolve the issues. No recent violations have been serious enough to shut down a business, and public health officials said they aim to work with owners to keep the public safe.

"We want to be a resource," said James Lacina, environmental health coordinator for Johnson County Public Health. "We are trying to promote education."

If a violation does rise to the level of an imminent public health threat or persists without correction, officials will take corrective action.

"In that case, we would bring it back to our boss and the county attorney and ask for their license to be suspended," Lacina said.

Some of the most common violations in the Linn County region center around the length of time a person can stay in a tanning bed, said Heidi Peck, Linn County environmental health services manager. Each tanning bed manufacturer makes recommendations on how long and how often consumers can tan, based on their skin type, to avoid skin damage.

Of the 34 businesses that had violations during their last Linn County health inspections, 21 got in trouble for not following the manufacturers' instruction on minutes per tanning session.

At the Marion Cost Cutters, for example, a health inspector wrote during a June 16 inspection that "customers were tanning longer than manufacturer recommendations." At the Hollywood Tan in Hiawatha on June 7, a health inspector wrote that an employee was unable to judge skin types and assign tanning times, and "minutes per tanning session exceed the manufacturer recommendations."

An inspector ordered that facility to "educate staff to follow recommendations and read labels."

State law also requires tanning bed operators to know whether their equipment can safely be used every 24 hours or 48 hours and to make sure clients don't exceed those limits. Several facilities were knocked for breaking that rule, including Elite Fitness in Lisbon. An inspector wrote on their most recent report that "consumers are tanning two times in one day."

Hollywood Tan in Cedar Rapids was written up June 9 for allowing a person to tan four hours early, violating the 24-hour rule by overriding an electronic monitoring system.

"Correct immediately," an inspector wrote.

Several facilities were marked down for failing to properly maintain or clean equipment. During the review at the Hollywood Tan in Cedar Rapids, inspectors found cracks in three of the beds, including one that was too damaged to use.

"Due to the safety hazard, this bed shall not be used by customers until corrected," an inspector wrote, adding that they would return for a recheck "due to many violations and concerns."

State law requires operators to clean tanning beds between each use or make sure customers do. Even if the onus is placed on the consumer, employees still must clean the beds at least once a day.

Anytime Fitness in Iowa City, which controls its tanning beds electronically and without a human operator, was hit for not cleaning beds daily. Health officials said the violation was related to the fact that someone isn't monitoring the tanning beds per use. But Travis Salter, co-owner of the Anytime Fitness franchise in Iowa City, said beds are cleaned often, and he doesn't know why an inspector noted that violation.

"Our managers are under orders to clean the beds from top to bottom on a morning and nightly basis," Salter said.

Some businesses — like #1 Sun Tan and Travel in Iowa City — were cited for having signs promoting the health benefits of tanning, violating a federal regulation. #1 Sun Tan and Travel general manager Brooke Bahndorf said she took down the signs but believes the industry, unfairly, gets a bad rap.

"We are trying to do everything we can to promote the benefits of tanning because there is so much negative stuff out there," Bahndorf said.
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