California Legislator Wants to Protect Workers from

March 4, 2004
California Assembly member Mervyn Dymally (D., Compton) has introduced a bill that would require businesses providing laundered cloth shop towels to companies to affix a warning label alerting users that the towel may have been in contact with hazardous materials.

"I plan to amend the bill to require additional sanctions, and possibly to ban the use of all re-laundered industrial cloth shop towels, if we can't arrive at a solution to clean this mess up," said Dymally.

Dymally joins a growing chorus of environmental and labor organizations who have joined forces to address the growing problem of "toxic towels." These are the re-laundered cloth shop towels used by maintenance workers, mechanics and other industry service people, including factory workers, to clean up chemical and other spills. According to Dymally, these towels remain high in toxic chemical contaminants even after they are properly laundered.

"Toxic towels are exposing workers to dangerous levels of chemicals in the workplace. We need the legislature to fix this problem," said Willie Pelote, the political and legislative director of AFSCME, a major labor union and the co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 2732.

According to Dymally, reports show that even after being returned by a professional laundry service, some chemical residue remains on the towels. A recently released independent study conducted by the Gradient Corp. found that employees who utilize 2.5 reusable shop towels per day resulted in an exposure to lead that exceeds (California's) Proposition 65 limits by a factor of 27. A loophole in the current law allows these towels to be repeatedly re-laundered and placed back in the shops where they are used by unsuspecting workers who believe they are using clean towels.

"Toxic towels are hurting people in California. We need to reduce the overall exposure to the chemicals found in these products. Assemblyman Dymally's legislation is a good first step toward eliminating this exposure. We need to make sure that workers know they are being exposed and reduce the amount of chemicals used in the first place," said Dan Jacobson, legislative director of Environment California, another co-sponsor of the legislation.

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