90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Monday, November 26, 2012

When Washing Rags Creates Toxic Emissions

The shop towels used by mechanics to mop up spilled oil can release toxic chemicals into the air when laundered. (Reed Saxon/AP)

If you think your laundry is dirty, consider the many shops and garages that use shop towels – absorbent, reusable cloths for wiping oil, solvents and chemicals off machines.

The shop towels are eventually carted off to industrial laundries, which clean them. In that process, toxic chemicals – including carcinogens – are released, and could be inhaled.

Environmental regulators in Connecticut found emissions from these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) so bad at one laundry, they stopped the facility from cleaning them.

Science journalist Barbara Moran, who wrote about the issue for the Connecticut Health I-Team, told Here & Now that environmental regulators admitted to her they had missed this problem.

“It’s kind of flown under the radar,” Moran said. “Even when I first heard about this story, I was like, ‘wait air emissions?’ I don’t even understand how this could be happening because laundries, when they’re targeted, are usually targeted for water discharge, water emission issues.”

The environmental consulting firm Gradient has conducted research on shop towels, and found they can also put workers at risk, since they still contain metals such as lead, even after laundering.

Graphic created by Kimberly-Clark Professional.

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Spotlight

Here & Now resident chef and cookbook author Kathy Gunst shares her list of the best cookbooks of the year.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

December 17 2 Comments

Atticus Lish’s ‘Preparation For The Next Life’

The author's debut novel centers on an unlikely romance between an Iraq veteran and a Uyghur from China.

December 17 3 Comments

Diagnosing Ear Infections With Your Smartphone

The CellScope Oto is a clip-on gadget that turns a smartphone into an otoscope — the tool doctors use to check out a patient's eardrum.

December 16 Comment

‘Sacred Journeys’ Documents Religious Pilgrimages

In a new documentary series on PBS, Bruce Feiler accompanies Americans on pilgrimages to six of the world's holiest sites.

December 16 4 Comments

Jewish Cuisine — It’s Not Just Chopped Liver

Janna Gur shares some history of Jewish cuisine, as well as three recipes from her new cookbook "Jewish Soul Food."