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New Research Clears Shop Towels of Toxicity Claims, TRSA Says

Staff Writer |

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An initial health risk assessment of laundered reusable shop towels by international environmental engineering firm ARCADIS indicates that using laundered reusable shop towels creates no health hazard, TRSA announced during a press conference Thursday.

The association commissioned the study in response to 2011 Gradient Corp. analysis funded and used by disposable-wiper marketers to fuel speculation about risks associated with clean reusable shop towels.

ARCADIS’ risk assessment indicates that metals remaining on shop towels after laundering are not readily transferred to the hands of workers. TRSA plans to expand the research beyond the initial sample of shop towels from 10 locations to 15 randomly selected sites.

ARCADIS measured metal traces in laundered towels and increased the scope of testing to include leachability tests using “synthetic sweat” to estimate residual elements that could be freed when they are used. The firm determined the amounts of each metal a worker might be exposed to, based on factors including skin contact and hours worked. The potential non-cancer and cancer hazards associated with such exposures were assessed.

The independent research found either zero detectable risk from the transfer of these metals or a level insignificant even when compared to the EPA’s health-conservative values, TRSA says. The ARCADIS research protocol mirrored the Gradient analysis but went significantly further by conducting the leachability tests.

“Reusable cloth shop towels have been used by millions of workers for more than 100 years with no indications that clean shop towels have any impact on worker health,” says Joseph Ricci, TRSA president/CEO. “By measuring leachate, and not simply relying on a modeling format, Arcadis realistically portrayed the minuscule amount of metals that shop towel users are exposed to, reaffirming our confidence there is absolutely no risk to users.”

Reusable cloth shop towels remain the wiper of choice for industrial applications due to their absorbency and cost benefits, TRSA says. They are not regulated as solid or hazardous waste as long as launderers use the association’s voluntary management practices for handling and transporting them. A new federal rule, expected this summer, will codify these techniques.

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