The Hidden Threat Of Laundered Shop Towels
Toxic Metals Found In Shop Towels
When Gradient analyzed laundered shop towels in 2003, they found that an unacceptable amount of lead, cadmium and antimony1 can be ingested by workers who use just 2.5 towels per day. A 2011 Gradient study found that "clean" shop towels sampled from 26 different industrial sites were significantly more contaminated with heavy metals than in 2003.
More heavy metals found
The laundered shop towels tested in the 2011 study by Gradient contained 7 heavy metals that exceeded health-based toxicity limits: antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead and molybdenum.
Higher concentrations of heavy metals
The new study also showed that the concentration of 6 heavy metals were significantly higher than the original study: aluminum, barium, calcium, copper, lead, magnesium and sodium.
Increased towel use = increased exposure
The 2011 study found that workers report using an average of 12 towels per day - and may use up to 26 towels per day. The higher the number of towels used, the higher the worker exposure to the metals found in the towels.
1. Exceeding limits recommended by public health agencies.
See What The Experts Have To Say
OSHA standards about heavy metal toxicity levels in the workplace*:
"In very small amounts, many of these metals are necessary to support life. However, in larger amounts, they become toxic. They may build up in biological systems and become a significant health hazard."
Heavy metal residue on shop towels can get onto worker hands, and then into the mouth and be swallowed. Here are some of the effects associated with heavy metals that exceeded toxicity criteria in the study by Gradient.
BERYLLIUM can cause sensitization, lung and skin disease in a significant percentage of exposed workers.***
CADMIUM & CADMIUM COMPOUNDS are known to cause cancer as well as kidney, bone and lung cancer.**
COBALT exposure at high levels can result in lung and heart effects, dermatitis and liver and kidney effects.**
COPPER when orally ingested may cause nausea, vomiting/diarrhea, liver damage, kidney damage or death.**
LEAD with long term (chronic) exposure, may result in severe damage to the blood-forming, nervous, urinary, and reproductive systems. Uncontrolled exposure to very high levels in the workplace has resulted in fatalities.**
The Dirt on Shop Towels: Toxicology 102
The Dirt on Shop Towels: Lunch Break
Cross Contamination of Toxic Metals
Most shop towels go back and forth from the laundry to a variety of industries, where they pick up oil, grease, solvents and toxic heavy metals like lead and cadmium. After laundering, towels are randomly sent out to other customers - a foundry, a chemical plant, a metal manufacturer - picking up more contaminants at each workplace. Keep in mind that shop towels retain heavy metal residues even after laundering. And the heavy metals and other contaminants that do come out during laundering go into the wash water, where they can be re-deposited onto "clean" towels. It's a cycle that continues until the towels degrade and are sent to a landfill.
WYPALL* - The Simple Shop Towel Solution
If you're in purchasing, you need to break the habit of renting shop towels that contain hazardous heavy metals - and find out about the health and cost benefits of clean, disposable towels. If you work with laundered shop towels every day, you need to be working with safe, disposable towels that do not contain heavy metals or other contaminants. The simple solution, switch to the clean and safe alternative to laundered shop towels - WYPALL* Wipers.
Select The Right Wiper For Your Task With Kimberly Clark
View NH Bragg's Selection Of WYPALL* Wipers
Industry News & Information
From fall protection to hazard communication to ladder safety, here's a look at OSHA's Top 10 most frequently cited workplace violations during fiscal year 2014.
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