The Risks of Dirty Laundry

Without regulation, unsafe linen can harm the public. In recent years, inspectors have tied fatal fungal outbreaks at different hospitals to contaminated linen. From New Orleans to Pittsburgh, lack of independent oversight has resulted in avoidable deaths:


University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

Beginning in 2015 fatal mold infections spread through University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) facilities leading to the deaths of five people. An investigation into the deaths found the same mold at the company UPMC outsourced its linen to. The fatal mold was found at the laundry facility, in a truck and on carts. A separate investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not determine a source of the mold. The hospital environment specialist hired by the UPMC, Andrew Streifel, who inspected the facility, later reported that he “would put money” on the linen being the source of the outbreak.


Children’s Hospital of New Orleans

A similarly deadly situation with fungal infections occurred beginning in 2008 at the Children’s Hospital of New Orleans. Five children ages 1 month to 13 years contracted fungal infections and ultimately died. In this case the CDC stated it “suspect[s]” the outsourced laundry was contaminated with fungus when it was delivered to the hospital. Inspectors suspected the contamination of clean linen occurred after it had been washed and dried, either at the laundry facility or during delivery.


Queen Mary Hospital of Hong Kong

At the Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong three people died from a fungal outbreak in 2015. Investigators found that “suboptimal conditions of washing, drying, and storage contributed to the massive linen contamination and the outbreak.”


Report from NYC Council member Ritchie Torres and CLEAN NYC

This report examines the current state of more than 50 industrial laundries in the New York City area: how they operate, what they do, who works in them, and the significant risks that the irresponsible industrial laundries among them pose to the public health of New Yorkers every day.

Read the full report here.


There’s a way to prevent these outbreaks

New York City is the only area with independent oversight of the industrial laundry market, designed to protect the public and workers from irresponsible operators. New York City’s CLEAN Act requires industrial laundries located in the city and those delivering to clients in the city to be licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs. The act requires laundries to actually wash their products, comply with minimum standards of cleanliness, and ensure that soiled and clean items are kept separate to minimize the chances of contaminating laundered goods. The enforcement of the Act will show that independent oversight is the mechanism to identify bad actors and prevent public health crises that could result in avoidable death.

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Supporters of the CLEAN Act:

  • New York Communities for Change
  • Make the Road New York
  • New York Immigration Coalition
  • SEIU Local 32BJ
  • SEIU Committee of Interns and Residents
  • Workers United Laundry Distribution and Food Service Joint Board
  • 1199 SEIU
  • Local 2013 of the UFCW