Laundry truck driver Mark Fragola may suffer from respiratory ailments the rest of his life. After two years of driving a delivery truck for Cintas Corp. in Branford, Conn., the 31-year-old father of two sought medical attention for excruciating headaches. A CAT scan revealed nasal cavities almost completely blocked with a black fungus, unlike anything his physician had every seen, requiring immediate surgery.

Fragola testified at a hearing of the Environmental Protection Agency against a proposed rule change that would permanently exempt toxic-laden “shop towels” from federal hazardous and solid waste regulations.

Fragola and his physician believe his medical condition is the result of on-the-job exposure to toxins. He describes his delivery truck as essentially an open container of noxious fumes, as it provided an insufficient barrier between him and the toxic substances in the soiled rags, towels and mats he transported. His job also entailed dragging dusty floor mats into his truck, retrieving mold and maggot-ridden towels and napkins from restaurant basements, and breathing in the fumes of carcinogen-laden shop towels. Back at the plant, he had to count out by hand each soiled shop towel, rag and mat.

The EPA rule change would allow industrial laundries like Cintas to make workers transport and launder shop towels full of toxins without proper training, handling, labeling and disposal requirements. The rule would also allow laundries to dump these chemicals into wastewaters, causing serious air and water pollution.

– Roberta Wood (