Most people don't stop to think, what is dry cleaning and is it safe?
The chemical tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene)—commonly called perc—is a central nervous system depressant. It can enter the body through inhaling, touching the skin or through contaminated drinking water. More than 85% of Dry Cleaners use perc as their primary cleaning agent.
Bad stuff. Minimal exposure to perc can cause people to experience dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. Prolonged exposure has been linked to neurological effects, liver and kidney damage, and cancer. These dangers are not only for people who work in the dry cleaning, but for consumers who bring home supposedly clean clothes that are actually contaminated with perc.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that clothes dry cleaned with perc can elevate levels of the toxin throughout a home and especially in the room where the garments are stored. Breastfeeding mothers who are exposed to perc may transfer it to their infants via breast milk. Dry cleaners located in residential areas risk exposing neighboring businesses and residents to an increased cancer risk, as high as 140 to 190 in 1,000,000.
Yep. California declared perc a toxic chemical in 1991, and its use will become illegal in that state in 2023. The EPA has classified the perc solvent as a hazardous air contaminant, and both the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified perc as “likely to be a human carcinogen.”
Because of these classifications, federal law requires dry cleaners to handle perc as a hazardous waste, and cleaners have to take special precautions against site contamination. In fact, many landlords refuse to have dry cleaning facilities in their buildings because of the danger to other tenants and resulting remediation.Perc is such an effective solvent that if it’s exposed to the ground, it will penetrate concrete and soil and not stop until it hits ground water.
It’s all around us. A 2001 Greenpeace report found that 70% of all perc used for cleaning ends up in the environment. Studies have found perc in more than 50% of all Superfund sites, and a federal survey found perc in more than 26% of U.S. groundwater supplies, in concentrations reaching hundreds of times the acceptable limit established by the Safe Drinking Water Act.