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The Connecticut Health I-Team (C-HIT) report on industrial laundries in The Day Nov. 24 misrepresented the industry and understated the degree to which it is regulated. Readers were given the false impression that shop/print towels are the only laundered product the industry provides; actually, they represent just 4 percent of sales. Most work consists of uniforms and linens. Proper use of shop towels is governed by OSHA rules for safe chemical handling and the agency's general-duty clause. Federal and state transportation and solid waste disposal laws govern how shop towels are carried and landfilled. Most important, because shop towel soils ultimately are washed down the drain in laundering, their safe disposal is governed by laundries' sewer discharge permit limits.
The article referred to state environmental regulators' surprise that industrial laundries are a significant source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But readers were not told why! It is likely due to our Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) members' best practices codified in 1992 that prevent excessive emissions. Through TRSA, the industry has a long-standing relationship with federal EPA and is working with the agency's New England office to address the region's concerns. TRSA has also conferred for decades with printers' advocates to encourage them to curb their industry's use of VOC-laden solvents.
Laundries are not disposal facilities for VOCs. They cannot afford to carry excess solvents; if they do so, they are subject to costly solid waste disposal requirements. Disposable paper and nonwoven wipers are regulated as such and are known to be disposed illegally in unlined landfills when soiled with hazardous wastes.
TRSA members, many of whom are small business owners, are proud of their relationships with their communities. We have documented members' steady efficiency improvements that have enabled them to reduce the water and energy they need to process each pound of laundry. In 2008, EPA acknowledged TRSA as a leader in the agency's Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative and soon after negotiated a voluntary phase-out of nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) from wash chemistry. To acknowledge exceptional performance by launderers in resource conservation and pollution prevention, earlier this year, TRSA began to certify top performers as "Clean Green."
C-HIT's report plays the regulatory failings of a plant that processes print towels (G&K Services, Waterbury) as indicative of an entire industry. While any laundry with high-capacity machinery can emit VOCs by processing printer towels, few such facilities are interested in this type of work, leaving it to specialists or outsourcing it to them. Mainstream industrial-scale launderers are no VOC risk.
Joseph Ricci is the president and CEO of TRSA, based in Alexandria, Va.