Union Claims Blankets and Headsets Carry Germs

Blankets, pillowcases and headphones handed out to airline passengers are not always washed after every use and may harbor dangerous germs, a union trying to organize laundry workers claimed today.

A medical expert questioned the likelihood of contracting a disease from unwashed linen or headsets.

Workers at Royal Airline Laundry plants around the country, serving more than 150 airlines, are told to repackage the items if they don’t appear dirty, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees said.

E. Coli Living in Headsets

“This laundry company has been trying to cut costs, and as a result they put passengers of airlines at risk,” said Ira Stern, New Jersey director for the union. Stern said his union represents 200 of Royal’s 500 workers and is seeking to organize others.

Officials of Royal, based in Inwood, N.Y., had no immediate comment.

Stern conceded that the union had not identified any passengers who sickened by unclean linen or headsets.

The union handed out copies of its study at 20 airports around the country. It said tests found linens and headsets contaminated with bacteria that included E. coli, which can cause meningitis and other ailments.

However, Dr. Russell Rayman, director of the Aerospace Medical Association, said infection is highly unlikely.

“I have not seen any reports in our literature regarding the laundering and cleaning of headsets and blankets, and any association with illness,” Rayman said.

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