Laundered shop towels pose little to no health risk for workers that use them, says the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA).
The association held an online press conference today to present the findings of a study it commissioned on the subject.
According to Arcadis, an international management and engineering consultancy, the health risks associated with metal residues in shop towels are “below regulatory levels of concern.”
“The results indicate that there is no increased health risk for workers who routinely use shop towels, from a variety of exposure pathways,” the final report states.
TRSA was responding to a technical paper prepared in 2010 by Gradient, an environmental and risk science consulting firm, which concluded that shop towels used in industrial settings can be laced with dangerous heavy metal residue.
The study challenged the assumption of the Gradient study that shop towels could be a source of heavy metal ingestion in industrial workers.
“Focusing the assessment on the transfer of metal residues from a towel to a clean hand is somewhat artificial,” the report stated. “In many instances, towel use is more likely to cause a net removal of metals and other substances from the hands.”
To investigate the potential health risks, Arcadis tested towels from a number of facilities, including automotive facilities. The firm focused on the ways that dangerous substances could end up being ingested by workers: going from towel to hand and then from hand to food or directly to the mouth.
The study specifically looked at 27 different metals, including antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, and molybdenum.
Towels were obtained from 10 U.S. facilities that rent out and launder shop towels. Composite samples representing each facility were incubated in synthetic human sweat for an hour. The concentration of each metal was then measured.
According to Arcadis, the findings contradict those of the Gradient study. In fact, the levels were 1000 to 10,000 times lower than the Gradient study reported.
Arcadis also pointed out that the risk of getting cancer from laundered shop towels is also lower than previously thought.
The study has been submitted for peer review and publication in industrial hygienic scholarly journals.