How ‘Green’ Is Your Dry Cleaner?

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may soon set a “greener” nationwide standard for the dry cleaning industry.

Many local dry cleaners claim to be “green” or “eco-friendly” or “organic,” but the majority actually use the toxic cleaning solvent, perchloroethylene, also known as PERC. It pollutes the air and water and is believed to be a human carcinogen.

PERC also has serious non-cancer health effects. They are mainly neurological, liver, and kidney effects following short-term (a few hours or days) or chronic, long-term inhalation exposure. PERC usually enters the body by inhalation and is stored in fat tissue.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its approval of a ban on PERC in all dry cleaning operations in the state of California by 2023—a stringent rule which may help set a new greener  standard for the dry cleaning industry nationwide.

But in New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says  there are about 2,000 dry cleaning facilities still using PERC solvent, with the majority located nearby in the greater New York City metropolitan area.  Altogether they release more than 70,000 pounds of PERC into our New York State air.

The DEC regulates and inspects dry cleaners, setting limits on PERC emissions as well as safety guidelines for their equipment. Meanwhile, the state health department fact sheet on PERC identifies significant health risks from even short term inhalation of the fumes.  So if you take your clothes to a cleaner that uses PERC (and you definitely should ask), be sure to air them out when you get them home. Place them near a window for a day or so before putting them away.

Fortunately, there are green alternatives to PERC; for example, Go Green Dry Cleaners on the W. Boston Post Road in Mamaroneck uses a different cleaning process called GreenEarth Cleaning that is perc-free. Owners Michael Koppy and Gary Madrit point out that this process uses safer, liquid silicone to clean clothes. The process is described on their website www.mygogreendrycleaners.com. Go Green is a sister company of Image Cleaners based in upper Westchester. The store in Mamaroneck sends cleaning off-site to a central location.

You can also look for cleaners that use a “wet-cleaning process”– a method used by Embassy Cleaners with stores in Larchmont and Scarsdale.   Wet cleaning is perc-free.

“ We are the first dry cleaner in Westchester County to offer wet cleaning that is  a 100% ecological cleaning process,” says Andrew Rivkin, president and owner of Embassy Cleaners.  Rivkin added that Embassy invested in new equipment for wet cleaning in 1995 and has years of experience using it.

In addition to utilizing water in their wet cleaning process, Embassy Cleaners also uses biodegradable soaps as part of their commitment to environmentally responsible practices.

Besides using a perc-free cleaner, you can avoid risks by limiting the amount of dry cleaning that you do. Consumer Reports advises that many delicate “dry clean only” items actually can be washed at home by hand. In general, it’s best to use cool water and a mild liquid soap. Gently squeeze or wring out the water and lay flat to dry. Even if the label says “dry clean only,” you can usually do it yourself.

What do you think? Is a green cleaner important to you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “How ‘Green’ Is Your Dry Cleaner?

  1. I have grown up in the dry cleaning business. My company is family owned and operated for 80 years. During most of those years we cleaned in perc. As is the case in my family, our employees and the nation, there is no higher incidence of cancer in dry cleaning workers than the rest of the population. Seems to fly in the face of all the hype. It’s the primary reason perc is not listed as a carcinogen, only a probable which means there isn’t one definitive study that proves the fact and there are numerous studies that conclude no increased risk. There is a study out of north carolina that did conclude that the silicone in green earth caused bladder cancer in rats. There is an entire industry that has been built playing on the fears that perc is bad. In my company we switched away from perc at a cost of over one million dollars just to be “environmentally friendly”. The comment about your cloths smelling needs clarification. If your clothes smell like dry cleaning solvent, they need to go back to the cleaners. Preferably a full service non discount cleaners. If they smell the solvent is still in the clothes and unless you can hang them in 132 degree temperature your aren’t getting the solvent out. You’re just covering it up or diluting it, but it’s still there waiting to get dried properly. The obvious question is why did you switch if you didn’t think perc was bad? Because this industry that has been created to clean up perc from ground water and keeping the standard equal to a shot glass of perc in a body of water the size of an Olympic swimming pool, has convinced enough banks and developers that they won’t lease space to a cleaners with perc. So now we use hydrocarbon, a petroleum derivative, which comes from the earth, isn’t listed as hazardous much the way perc was when it first came out and we get to keep our stores. But mark my words, someday my grandson will be dealing with my environmentally friendly solvent and equipment just like I had to deal with my grandfathers. But by all means, don’t buy polyester just because it can be washed at home. We don’t have the time and if you get too close to an open flame, there goes that new $45 suit!

  2. It was deleted because we don’t publish personal attacks, and you attacked the author. You are welcome to try again. In the meantime, the author sent this response to your note:

    Dear Jeff,

    Thank you for your comments on the dry cleaning story posted on theloopny.com. It is my understanding that the GreenEarth process is already widely used in California, and that the CA Air Resources Board– a reputable agency that commands considerable expertise– has conducted the most thorough review of its human health and environmental risks. (copy is available)

    The fact sheet on dry cleaning provided by the CA Air Resources Board indicates that while they do not consider the GreenEarth process “approved” and they are still investigating whether it poses potentially harmful environmental effects, they do consider it to be one of the alternatives to PERC methods, which clearly seem to be much worse.

    The fact sheet carefully states that the CA Air Resources Board does not find human health risks to be significant for the GreenEarth technology, although animal studies were of serious concern as there were cancers at very high doses. So while GreenEarth is far from perfect, as you also point out, it is still one of the alternatives to PERC. Also, it is not petrochemical based, which is helpful.

    In our story, which is about locally-based options (for folks in Westchester) that are preferable to PERC, we also note that wet cleaning is a green alternative and we cite a local cleaner who is doing it.

    Regarding the Canadian government’s actions, the citation we have indicates that the GreenEarth process is okay to use in Canada and has not been banned. However, I would be happy to review any source you have for your point that it will be banned in Canada, if you could send it to me. I don’t see a source for that so far.

    Regarding the Sierra Club’s position, as a national advocacy organization that has engaged in litigation on dry cleaning, they are entitled to their views. Our story constraints don’t really permit us to explore their arguments, but perhaps in future we can look at some of those in comparison to statements from other advocacy groups, which might be an interesting story angle. I am not sure if there is a local branch of the Sierra Club– we focus on local news stories– but I will find out. I will also check with our other local advocacy groups here such as the League of Conservation and Environmental Advocates of New York.

    Thanks again for your interest.
    Joyce Newman

  3. I don’t understand why my last comment was deleted! I am trying to inform people about the dangers involved in green earth cleaning. The Sierra Club has done studies and found it to be just as dangerous as PERC. In addition, Canada is in the process of outlawing green earth cleanng.

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