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TOXIC TOWELS?

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WASHINGTON—Laundered textile shop towels in tire retail stores, automotive service shops and other workplaces don't pose a health risk to workers who use them, according to a study commissioned by the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA).

The TRSA commissioned the study from scientific consulting firm ARCADIS in reply to a Summer 2011 study by the consulting firm Gradient for paper towel manufacturer Kimberly-Clark Worldwide Inc.

The Gradient study found levels of heavy metals such as antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead and molybdenum above federal exposure limits in laundered shop towels.

On the other hand, the TRSA study measured concentrations of 27 different metals in laundered shop towels gathered from 10 industrial laundries and found all exposure levels well under legal limits.

The TRSA unveiled the study in a March 5 webinar. Participants included TRSA President and CEO Joseph Ricci, ARCADIS Principal Toxicologist Kevin Con-nor and Patrick N. Breysse, professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University.

In its study, ARCADIS said it used a leachability testing procedure to obtain data suited to the modeling of worker skin contact with shop towels, ARCADIS said in its executive summary.

“This exposure model was focused on the towel-to-hand transfer of the metals and subsequent hand-to-food or hand-to-mouth transfers,” ARCADIS said. The model was developed within the risk assessment framework used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, it said.

Based on the EPA-designed risk assessment for lead, ARCADIS said, the company “concluded that predicted lead intakes do not constitute a significant health hazard based on potential worker exposures.”

Comparing the data generated by the Gradient and ARCADIS studies, Mr. Breysse found the design of the Gradient test problematic, and concluded that the leachate testing procedure used by ARCADIS was more accurate, he said during the webcast.

The ARCADIS study found levels of lead in laundered shop towels in concentrations ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 times below those estimated in the Gradient study, according to Mr. Breysse.

“There is little or nothing to be worried about using laundered shop towels,” he said.

The ARCADIS study—”The Health Risk Assessment of Laundered, Reusable Shop Towels”—has been submitted for peer review and publication in scholarly journals on environmental health, the TRSA said.

A spokeswoman for Gradient said the company was still evaluating the ARCADIS study for scientific accuracy. “Once we have fully vetted the study, we will be able to comment further,” she told Tire Business.



To contact this reporter: mmoore@ crain.com; 202-662-7211.
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