One source of toxins that has caught the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is large-scale laundries. Large-scale laundering facilities are responsible for cleaning linens for hospitals, prisons, hotels, and other entities. However, the toxic fumes released during the cleaning process might be making laundry workers and the general public ill.
The problem may not be the cleaning process itself, but rather what is cleaned. The biggest offenders may be shop towels from industrial plants sent to the laundries already covered in oil, paint, solvents, and other chemicals. Once the towels are washed and dried, the toxins that were on them enter the atmosphere. They exit the laundry facilities through vents and exhaust valves, becoming a major source of smog.
In addition to the dangers posed by inhaling the vapors, having so many different toxins together can be dangerous in different ways -- such as causing fires or explosions when chemicals mix together. Until now, regulators have had difficulty cracking down because they did not know whom to hold responsible, with each industrial plant using different chemicals. The EPA, however, has stated that it is the laundry facilities that should be held responsible for what they clean.
Last year, the EPA set its sights on two New England laundry facilities where residents had complained about poor air quality: one in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire. The EPA got the New Hampshire facility to pay a civil penalty of $65,000, install better filters to prevent so much toxic escape through the vents, and undertake a $220,000 initiative to improve air quality in that part of the state. Up to 35 other facilities have been probed, with some of them facing similar penalties.
Large-scale laundry facilities are not usually the first example that comes to mind when people think of toxic offenders, so it is good that the EPA has chosen to keep an eye on them. Toxins in the air and water have been linked to a variety of health problems, as well as birth defects. However, if the EPA or another regulator has not taken steps to regulate the facilities, you could file a toxic tort lawsuit against the facility if you believe that your health problem, or your child's birth defect, could be the result of its toxins. You would argue that the laundry facility had a duty to the surrounding community to operate reasonably according to health and safety regulations. The facility breached its duty by permitting harmful amounts of toxins to escape into the air when it could have taken reasonable efforts to prevent the emissions. As a result of the breach, you were injured through exposure to the toxins while pregnant. The resulting damage was your child's birth defect.