Washington Post  [Printer-friendly version]
July 15, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: U.S. EPA has taken a bold step to prevent
residential exposures to the hazardous dry cleaning fluid, perc.
People living in a building that also contains a dry cleaning shop
will only have to inhale perc for 14 more years, assuming the dry
cleaning industry allows EPA to adopt and enforce its new regulation.]

By Juliet Eilperin

The Environmental Protection Agency tightened public health standards
for dry cleaners yesterday, saying that cleaning shops in residential
buildings must stop using a toxic solvent in their machines by 2020.

Administration officials said the new restrictions on
perchloroethylene, or perc, a hazardous air pollutant, would reduce
Americans' exposure to a chemical linked to cancer and neurological
damage. But environmentalists said the rule did not go far enough,
since it will take years to phase out machines using the harmful

About 28,000 dry cleaners across the country, many in major cities
such as New York and Washington, use perc in the wash cycle to clean
clothes. Of the total, 1,300 operate in residential buildings.

Several scientific studies have found a connection between dry
cleaning employees' exposure to perc and impaired neurological
function, along with a higher cancer risk. One study of two New York
couples living above a dry cleaner on the Upper West Side found
elevated levels of the chemical in their blood, urine and breast milk,
as well as vision impairment linked to exposure.

"This is an important step in our comprehensive strategy to expand and
enhance public health protections in the dry cleaning industry," said
William Wehrum, EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and
radiation. "The phaseout in residential buildings and improved
protections are good for public health and good for the environment."

Judith Schreiber, chief scientist for the New York attorney general's
Environmental Protection Bureau, said "there's good news and there's
bad news" in the EPA's decision. She welcomed the ban on any new perc
operations in residential buildings, but she questioned why the agency
was allowing cleaners 14 years to get rid of their old machines and
why they were allowing dry cleaners in buildings housing offices and
day-care centers to meet a less stringent standard.

"An entire generation of newborns, infants and nursing mothers will be
certain to be exposed to elevated perc levels in their homes,"
Schreiber said in an interview.

Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch,
noted that agency officials say Americans living above dry cleaners
will still be exposed to the chemical for several years under the new
regulations. In a fact sheet accompanying the rule, officials wrote
that the rule would "gradually reduce risk from existing co-
residential dry cleaners. However, risks from these co-residential
facilities could remain significantly higher than EPA considers
acceptable in some buildings until the phase-out of perchloroethylene
machines is complete."

Agency officials wrote that the phaseout allows the government to
protect the public health "without causing unacceptable adverse
economic impact" on the industry.

Tong Luu, who runs Cleaner Express in Aspen, Colo., said he did not
object to the new rules but believes that the government may
eventually ban perc. Luu's machines capture all perc emissions before
they enter the atmosphere, he said, but he has not found a substitute
that cleans as well.

"It's not a bad thing, but sometimes you can't be asking for perfect,
100 percent" compliance, he said. Luu added he had to attend a one-day
class in Colorado Springs after state inspectors found he did not lock
the plastic container containing perc in back of his store.

The new rule also requires dry cleaners in nonresidential buildings to
use devices to detect leaks and to reduce emissions by conducting the
wash and dry cycles in the same machine. About 12 major dry cleaning
operations would also have to install machines to capture emissions.
New residential dry cleaners are not allowed to use perc, and existing
ones must phase out the chemical as their older machines wear out.

Dry cleaners have reduced perc emissions from 25,000 tons to 10,000
tons a year over the past decade by replacing older dry cleaning
machines and improving their machines' efficiency, the EPA said.

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