Those working on cars face many inhalation hazards.

Mechanics and other auto body shop and garage workers are exposed to a variety of harmful substances such as the ones contained in brake fluids, detergents, lubricants, degreasers, paints, metal cleaners, diesel fumes, fuel, solvents and many other fluids.

Exposure to the heavy metals and airborne chemicals in auto body shops and garages can lead to long-term and short-term health effects.

Now a study described in a recent Huffington Post article names yet another health and safety risk for mechanics and auto body workers:  Cleaned and laundered shop towels.


Study found lead, other toxins on shop towels 

A new study sponsored by Kimberly-Clark Professional, one of the largest makers of disposable towels in the US, suggests that workers using laundered towels are in fact exposing themselves to high levels of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals.

However, providers of laundered towels — and even some independent toxicology experts — viewed those claims with skepticism, the article adds.

According to the authors of the report, exposure to the metals, oil and grease that don’t get removed in the wash can occur both directly and indirectly: a worker may graze their lips with a towel while wiping off sweat, or touch their fingers to their mouth after using a towel to remove grime from a hand or tool. (The average person subconsciously touches his or her face an estimated 16 times an hour.)

Metal exposure exceeds recommended guidelines

The study found that the average worker who uses 12 towels a day may be exposed to seven metals — antimony, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, and molybdenum — at levels that exceed health-based exposure guidelines.

Lead exposure, which has been linked to nervous system damage, may be of particular concern. Gradient’s analysis found that the typical 12-towel-a-day worker may ingest up to 3,600 times more lead than is recommended by the EPA.

Industrial workers that don’t use toxic materials themselves may be particularly unaware of the potential risk of contamination.

Shop towels from a food or beverage manufacturer, for example, could have been laundered in the same facility as those soiled by automotive and heavy equipment companies.

According to the article, most auto shops now use reusable towels and that trend is unlikely to change until there is a more evidence and independent research.


Experts suggest the following to minimize the risks:

  • Choose a launderer that doesn’t recycle rags across multiple industries
  • Change the practice in order to minimize contacts with towels, such as adopting hand washing and decontamination protocols before going on break or before going home
  • Make sure the laundering method is the right one for the industry
  • Choose towels towels made of materials that would be less likely to trap particles, such as ones with flat surfaces rather than loops like a bath towel

Source: Huffington Post 

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