Non-Perc Dry Cleaning
For decades, commercial dry cleaners have relied on a chemical solvent known as perchloroethylene or "perc" to get clothes clean. But, like many "miracle" cleaners that were supposed to make our lives easier, perc has been found to cause significant environmental and human health problems.
Perc is a chlorinated hydrocarbon chemical that creates dioxin vinyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride and phosgene during its manufacture and breakdown processes. It is a volatile organic compound (VOC) and permeates the air in most dry cleaning establishments (the sweet chemical smell we're all familiar with). Perc is a common groundwater contaminant, and is extremely difficult to remediate once it has entered an ecosystem.
Primary exposure to perc is through inhalation and ingestion from contaminated water sources. Human health problems associated with exposure to perc include nervous system damage, liver and kidney damage, several types of cancer and reproductive impacts (perc passes easily from the mother to the fetus).
New developments in cleaning technology, especially "wet cleaning" have made perc virtually obsolete, and several states have passed legislation to phase out perc-based cleaning. California, New Jersey and Massachusetts all have programs to help small businesses make the conversion from perc to non-perc methods.
The Air Resources Board of the State of California has banned the use of perc, and will phase out all usage by 2023.
Green America has a wonderful webpage on problems associated with traditional dry cleaning, and the alternatives that are now widely available.
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