Ever notice that chemical odor when you walk into a dry cleaner? It’s a safe bet that you're smelling the toxic chemical perchloroethylene (otherwise known as PCE or perc). PCE, used in over 80% of the 35,000 cleaners in the United States, is associated with a number of adverse health impacts including cancer, liver and kidney damage, and neurotoxicity and reproductive and developmental toxicity. As a consequence, PCE has become highly regulated as a pollutant to the air, land, water, and workplace.
This regulation spurred interest in alternatives. While some alternatives (water-based professional wet cleaning and CO2) represent important safer substitutes, others (petroleum, siloxane, and n propyl bromide) pose their own set of hazards. Petroleum emits volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) – which cause smog and are greenhouse gases: the siloxane solvent (decamethylpentacyclosiloxane) has tested positive as a tumor initiator and therefore may be identified as a potential carcinogen. Both solvents generate hazardous waste and are combustible. N-propyl bromide is a reproductive and respiratory toxicant.
Since 1998, Dr. Peter Sinsheimer, STPP’s Executive Director, has spearheaded the Environmental Garment Care Demonstration Project to evaluate and promote viable environmentally-benign alternatives. The Demonstration Project started in the Los Angeles region, resulting in the first scientific evaluation confirming wet cleaning as a viable substitute for PCE drycleaning. Read the Report Here. The Project, which also showcases CO2, has expanded to cover all of California. In addition, the Project initiated demonstration projects in other states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.
Establishing the viability of environmentally-benign substitutes has resulted in significant policy change. In 2002, PCE dry cleaning was phased out in the greater Los Angeles region – a first for a government agency. California soon followed suit. In both cases, establishing the viability of professional wet cleaning played a decisive role. In 2003, California created an incentive for PCE dry cleaners switching to environmentally-benign alternatives (wet cleaning and CO2) funded by a fee on PCE.
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For more information about the Garment Care project, contact the Project Manager Carrie Gibson or 310.206.4702