Textile Rental Association Rejects Shop Towel Study

July 25, 2011
The Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA) is lashing out against a recent study that suggests workers who use laundered shop towels may be at risk of exposure to heavy metals. TRSA called the study’s claims unsubstantiated and pointed out the research was released by an industry with a vested interest in the study results.

The study, “Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels,” claimed that laundered shop towels could expose workers to antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead or molybdenum that exceed health-based exposure guidelines set by EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The study was released July 11 by Gradient. According to TRSA, the International Nonwovens & Disposables Association (INDA) teamed up with Gradient to release the results; the nonwoven fabrics industry would stand to profit from deceased reusable towel use. Kimberly-Clark Professional, a manufacturer of disposable wipers, commissioned the research.

“This is not a human health study. It does not measure the presence of metals from shop towels on human skin. It was not commissioned by any government agency or organization concerned about injuries or illnesses,” said TRSA President Joseph Ricci. “It was done by disposable paper wiper marketers to put their product in a positive light by discrediting use of reusable textiles.”

Ricci pointed out that the study did not appear in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and instead was self-published by INDA. The analysis does not prove the presence of metals in washed shop towels, TRSA noted, and if any were present, they could not escape because laundering would bind them to towel fibers. Finally, while the study implies that metals could migrate from towels to users’ hands, it offered no evidence that such transfer occurs, Ricco said.

“The findings assume that workers wipe their lips with a laundered shop towel twice a day,” said Ricci. “Such a baseless assumption serves no purpose other than to strike fear and create doubt.”

Ricci noted that commercial laundry is a service grounded in natural resource conservation and sustainability. The health care, hospitality and industrial/manufacturing sectors benefit from the laundering and delivery of reusable linens, uniforms, towels, mats and other products, he explained.

A PDF of the study can be downloaded here. To read TRSA’s response, visit http://www.trsa.org/prmedia/trsa-refutes-findings-shop-towel-metals.

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