Gradient Releases Report On Safety Of Laundered Shop Towels

Cambridge, Mass.-based environmental and risk science consulting firm Gradient has published a
white paper entitled “Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels,” which
analyzes the safety of laundered shop towels used by U.S. workers. Written by Gradient researchers
Dr. Barbara D. Beck, Leslie A. Beyer and Grace Greenberg, and commissioned by Kimberly-Clark
Professional — a supplier of disposable products including paper products, wipers, protective
apparel and other products — the report found the situation to be as potentially hazardous as, if
not more so than, in 2003, when Gradient conducted a similar peer-reviewed study.

In the manufacturing sector — which in the United States employs some 12 million workers,
according to National Association of Manufacturers estimates — workers use shop towels for wiping
equipment as well as their hands and faces. The used towels are typically collected from various
workplaces by industrial launderers that wash them all together and redistribute them to the same
or other workplaces.

Research indicated that the concentrations of toxic metals and chemicals in laundered shop
towels sampled from 26 industrial sites and submitted to an independent laboratory for testing were
significantly higher than in 2003. The conclusion reached was that elevated levels of metals, oil
and grease remain in the towels even after commercial laundering, creating risk of worker exposure
to contaminant levels greater than what is mandated under regulatory agency guidelines — even if
the workers use only one or two towels per day, although average usage is 12 per day. Based on
certain intake pathway assumptions, this exposure could affect workers’ long-term health. The
laundered towels also could introduce new metals into one facility from the facility where they
were previously used.

“The recently released study shows that workers are risking exposure to even greater amounts
of these metals, as well as several additional substances that were not identified the first time
around,” said Rory Holmes, president, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA),
Cary, N.C. “It is imperative that the users of these towels and their employees take a serious look
at their continued usage.”

July 26, 2011