A recent study by Gradient, “Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels,” reports that laundered shop towels could expose workers to antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead or molybdenum that exceed health-based exposure guidelines set by EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Disposable wipe manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Professional commissioned the research.
The Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) has responded to the study. According to TRSA, the nonwoven fabrics industry would stand to profit from decreased reusable towel use. “This is not a human health study. It does not measure the presence of metals from shop towels on human skin. It was not commissioned by any government agency or organization concerned about injuries or illnesses,” says TRSA President Joseph Ricci. “It was done by disposable paper wiper marketers to put their product in a positive light by discrediting use of reusable textiles.”
"The analysis does not prove the presence of metals in washed shop towels," TRSA noted, "and if any were present, they could not escape because laundering would bind them to towel fibers." While the study implies that metals could migrate from towels to users’ hands, it offered no evidence that such transfer occurs, Ricci says.
“The findings assume that workers wipe their lips with a laundered shop towel twice a day,” says Ricci. “Such a baseless assumption serves no purpose other than to strike fear and create doubt.”
Ricci adds that commercial laundry is a service grounded in natural resource conservation and sustainability. The health care, hospitality and industrial/manufacturing sectors benefit from the laundering and delivery of reusable linens, uniforms, towels, mats and other products, he explained.