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EPA Clean Air Settlements with Two Industrial Laundry Companies Minimize Emissions in New England Communities

Release Date: 07/09/2014
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

BOSTON – Two separate EPA settlements will require two industrial laundry companies operating in New England to obtain required Clean Air Act permits containing measures designed to minimize air emissions and protect air quality around the communities where they operate.

The two companies, UniFirst Corp. based in Mass., and Cintas Corp. based in Ohio, will also pay a total of nearly $460,000 in penalties to settle EPA claims that they operated industrial laundries in New England without required air permits. Both companies operate industrial laundry facilities across the country, but the settlements announced today resolve cases brought by EPA for alleged Clean Air Act violations at the companies’ New England facilities.

UniFirst and Cintas are in the business of renting and cleaning uniforms, towels, and other textile products for customers nationwide. Both companies’ facilities launder dirty “shop towels” that can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when the towels are washed and dried. Under the settlements, UniFirst and Cintas will follow a set of towel handling procedures (best management practices) that will minimize VOC emissions and will apply for state air permits.

UniFirst allegedly failed to obtain air pollution control permits for its seven New England facilities that launder shop towels in Stratford, Conn., Bangor and Portland, Maine, Dorchester and Springfield, Mass., and Lebanon and Nashua, N.H. UniFirst will pay $309,980 in fines.

Cintas allegedly failed to obtain air pollution control permits for its three New England facilities that launder shop towels in Cumberland, R.I., Chelmsford, Mass., and Westbrook, Maine. Cintas will pay $150,000 in fines.

Shop towels are towels used to clean mechanical equipment, parts, and devices. Used shop towels can contain VOC solvents. “Print towels,” which are used to clean printing or graphic arts equipment, typically contain higher levels of VOC solvents. Under the settlement agreements, the UniFirst and Cintas facilities may launder shop towels but are now prohibited from laundering print towels. Industrial laundries can process hundreds of tons of soiled towels, uniforms and other textiles per year in washers that can handle single loads of 500 pounds or more. As a result, the total VOC emissions from these facilities can be significant.

VOCs include a variety of chemicals that may produce adverse health effects such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. VOCs also contribute to ground-level ozone (smog) formation.

These cases and settlements arose out of a series of inspections that EPA conducted over the past seven years at industrial laundry facilities throughout New England to address Clean Air Act compliance issues. Since 2009, EPA New England issued numerous notices of violation under the Clean Air Act to industrial laundry companies that launder towels received from rental customers. In 2011, EPA settled a judicial action against G&K Services, Co., under which G&K paid a penalty of $65,000 and performed a supplemental environmental project valued at $220,000 to resolve alleged violations at G&K’s Manchester, NH facility. The G&K facility involved in EPA’s 2011 action launders both shop and print towels.

Both UniFirst and Cintas cooperated with EPA in taking steps to correct the violations and in reaching quick settlements.

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