Shop towels may expose manufacturing workers to heavy metals

Source: PlantServices.com

By Plant Services Staff

Jul 15, 2011

Gradient, an environmental and risk science consulting firm, announced the publication of a study that finds elevated levels of heavy metals in tested laundered shop towels. The study, “Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels,” builds upon an earlier analysis published in 2003 and concludes that, even after commercial laundering, the towels studied retain elevated levels of metals. This could result in worker exposures that exceed agency guidelines, which are based on various health effects such as cancer. Additionally, the tested shop towels may unexpectedly introduce new metals that are not otherwise in a facility.

Gradient compared the estimated amounts of ingested metals to various health-based criteria, including from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, estimated metal intakes were compared to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s (CalEPA) Proposition 65 regulatory limits for cancer or reproductive effects. The Gradient study finds that, for the worker using the typical amount of towels per day, average exposure to seven metals (antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, and molybdenum) may exceed health-based exposure guidelines set by these agencies.

Commissioned by Kimberly-Clark Professional, Gradient researchers analyzed data from laundered shop towels submitted by 26 North American companies across various manufacturing industries. The towels were submitted to an independent lab for testing. Gradient found significantly higher levels of contamination than in the similarly designed 2003 study.

View the report, “Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels

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