"Once a week, a batch of freshly laundered red towels, sealed in plastic, arrives at the Atlas Garage on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, while 100 or so soiled rags begin their journey back to a commercial washing facility.
Riaz Khan, 33, has spent the last 11 years caring for cars at this neighborhood shop -- checking oil, changing tires and performing other skills of his trade. While he has always been conscious of the gasoline and other fumes he breathes daily, it never occurred to him that the 10 or so "clean" towels he goes through in a typical eight-hour shift might be exposing him to toxic heavy metals, let alone at concentrations of up to 7,700 times current EPA limits.
"They're just like disposable towels," he said as his cousin, Fayaz Khan, 32, checked out a customer's car, wiping down a dipstick with a red rag. "We use them and toss them in the bin. And they are washed really well."
The towels did look, smell and feel quite clean. But could they actually harbor hidden hazards for the some 12 million automotive, printing and other manufacturing and industrial workers in the U.S.?"