Toxic Laundry Emissions

Barbara Moran, reporting for the Connecticut Health I-Team, discovers a toxic, overlooked environmental concern in industrial laundry facilities. An excerpt:

Laundering shop and print towels, which are cloths used to wipe oil, solvent and other chemicals off machinery can fuel the release of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) above federal limits. The use and processing of shop towels is largely under-regulated, despite its potential to emit toxic substances into the air…

State and federal investigations have exposed a potentially bigger problem: the spotty oversight of chemical-laden shop towels as they travel from factory floor to washing machine. The EPA and the laundry industry disagree on who bears liability for VOC emissions along this supply chain, with the EPA targeting laundries and the laundries pointing at customers.

“We don’t always know what’s arriving at the laundry, because these companies use different chemicals,” said Joseph Ricci, the president and CEO of the Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA), which represents the laundry industry. “So the customer is ultimately liable for what’s on the towel.”

This poorly regulated process can lead to a mix of incompatible chemicals at the laundry, creating fire risks and additional risks for human health and the environment, according to state and federal officials.

“If you don’t know what’s in there it could be hazardous,” said EPA’s Rapp. “There have been explosions at these types of facilities. We’ve heard reports of fires in the washing machine when the washer is going. What are you ignoring when the water is on fire?”

Photo: Courtesy of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.