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Shop Towels Show Metal Contamination Threat

Metal exposure from laundered shop towels may exceed the permissible levels allowed in drinking water, according to data released by environmental and risk science consulting firm Gradient, commissioned by Kimberly-Clark Professional.

According to the Evaluation of Potential Exposure to Metals in Laundered Shop Towels, manufacturing workers using a typical number of towels may be exposed to metals such as lead, chromium, cadmium and antimony at levels many times above those allowed by the maximum contaminant levels or, in the case of lead, the action level for drinking water.

The freshly-laundered towels can be contaminated with metal residues, which may transfer to the hand during common usage, and can migrate to the mouth and be ingested at levels which exceed those allowed in drinking water. In the case of lead, daily intake from shop towels may be up to 21 times higher than the intake that would be associated with the lead action level in water, the research says.

The study was based on analysis of data from laundered shop towels submitted by 26 North American manufacturing companies to an independent testing lab.

The EPA sets drinking water standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect public health. A maximum contaminant level, or action level in the case of lead, is a legally enforceable limit which drinking water must meet. Suppliers of drinking water such as municipalities must address exceedances of of such levels by taking corrective action and informing consumers, Gradient says.

In June 2011, Neptune Technology Group released a white paper explaining how standards for lead performance in water meters and other plumbing fixtures are getting stricter.

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