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Independent study confirms safety of reusable shop towels

TRSA, a leading global textile services trade association, announced that an independent study conducted earlier this year found workers who routinely use shop towels had no increased health risk above regulatory levels of concern.

The study, commissioned by TRSA and conducted by Arcadis U.S., Inc., measured heavy metal exposures in laundered shop towels sampled from 10 laundering facilities. Shop towels are reusable, natural fiber cloths used as rags in various workplaces for wiping engines, mechanical parts, work surfaces and other equipment. 

TRSA commissioned the study in response to research suggesting shop towels contained concentrations of metals that exceed established regulatory toxicity criteria.

“This study definitively demonstrates reusable shop towels do not put workers at risk,” explained TRSA President and CEO Joseph Ricci.

“Prior findings to the contrary used a variety of ad hoc approaches that produced questionable results. Our study uses a methodical, risk assessment model based on a high-end, reasonable level of towel usage that sets the bar for this type of industry research.”

Twenty-seven metals were evaluated in the TRSA study with hazard indices (HI) calculated for three exposure pathways: towel-to-hand and subsequent hand-to-food or hand-to-mouth transfers. In each instance, the highest HIs for all metals were at least 10 times lower than the regulatory level of concern.

While the TRSA study confirmed previous reports of low, but measurable levels (i.e., part-­per­-million) concentrations of several heavy metals in reusable shop towels, these trace residues do not pose a concern to worker health-based on minimal regulatory health standards.

The full study is available by contacting TRSA by calling 703.519.0029, Ext. 109. 

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