Wednesday 12 September 2012

"Clean" US Shop Towels contaminated with toxic metals

Kimberly MacDougall, Research Scientist, Kimberly Clark highlighted another aspect of laundered shop towel use which the EPA appeared to have ignored for 27 years.  Many were contaminated with toxic metals which were not completely removed in laundering.  Traces could be ingested or inhaled during use.
  •      Workers have been observed touching their faces, on average, about 16 times an hour while using the towels.
  • ·    55% admit to wiping their hands and face more than 3 times a day using the towels.
  • ·    36% take them for home use.
  • ·    18% admit to using laundered shop towels for personal hygiene or first aid.
  •      A July 2011 Gradient report (Beyer, Grace and Beck) reported on the analysis of laundered towels across 15 industries in the US and Canada for 29 metals and showed these metals could be ingested via hand contact.
  • ·    26 different metals were found on over 90% of clean shop towels. Not all the metals would arise in any one industry, but metals could be transferred between industries by the towels.
  • ·    Exposure to 7 metals (antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead and molybdenum) exceeded the recommended values as a result of exposure via hand contact with the wipes.
  • ·    The exposure to lead was on average 591 times the “toxicity reference value” and peaked at 3500 times that value.
Obvious questions remain to be answered.  Could laundering of the shop towels be improved in the light of the study?  If not and if they are banned from metal processing industries, how big is the opportunity for disposables?

(From INDA's World of Wipes Conference Chicago, June 2012)

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