Dry cleaning pollutes

  • 30/07/1995

Dry cleaning pollutes A domestic but prolific generator of organochlorines is the homely dry-cleaning business. Over 90 per cent of alndry-'ters use chlorine-based perchloroethylene (perc) to clean clothes. Some 3 million pounds of this highly toxic chemical are annually by the industry in the US and Canada alone.

Dry-cleaners are the single largest users of pert, relesing massive emissions of the chemical into the environment. Yet, as small businesses, US dry-cleaners are not required to report air emissions, even though their collective emissions in 1991 - about 200 million pounds- were 12 times higher than all reporting US industries combined.

Dry-cleaners also generate large amounts of perc-contaminated waste. In 1991, US dry-cleaners sent more than 90 mil pounds of this waste offsite and over 75 million pounds went to hazardous waste incinerators or cement kilns. Burning of this waste results in the formation of hundreds of deadly by-products, including dioxins, furams and hexachlorobenzene.

Pert is a gregarious toxin. Workers, people living close to dry-cleaning shops, and the public at large are continually exposed to massive pert emissions, Workers are especially vulnerable in shops which use 'transfer' machines. in which perc-saak clothes have to be manually transferred from the wash machine to the dryers.

But pert also stalks homes. The New York State Department of Health, for example, has found air pert levels hundreds of times higher than the standard - about 15 parts per billion - in homes near dry-cleaning shops. Furthermore, when dry- cleaned clothes are brought home, they bring toxic perfumes along with it. And this can result in perc levels far higher than the standard.

Pert is also a ubiquitous toxin. It accumulates in food - particularly fatty acids, such as butter. Perc levels as much as IIIDO times higher than background levels have been found in grocery stores and homes near dry-cleaning shops in the US. And as perc-contaminated wastewater is flushed, down sewer systems, it contaminates groundwater too. The average perc levels found in 20 wells contaminated by dry-cleaners in California's Central valley revealed pert levels 600 times above The US standard of 5 ppb for drinking water. The gravity of the danger is underlined by the fact that half of all US and Canadian residents rely on groundwater for their drinking water.

Perc is equally versatile in its vileness. When you inhale or "est pert, it accumulates in your body - it has been found in the breath, blood, fatty tissue and breast milk of the general US and Canadian populations. Pert targets the central nervous Wstem; the victims often complain of headaches, nausea, dizziwss, among other problems. Pert has also been found to be toxic to liver and kidneys.

Perc's effects on the reproductive system are no less serious. Scandinavian studies have shown a 3-to 4-fold increase in the risk of miscarriage for workers exposed to pert. Infertility in both men and women and other reproductive disorders have been linked to perc.

Perc has been linked to several human cancers. Recent studies of subjects exposed both in the workplace and through contaminated drinking water have revealed that exposure to perc results in a much higher cancer risk. A Boston University study showed a 2-to 7-fold increase in leukaemia, and a 4-fold increase in bladder cancers in people exposed to perc in their water supply.

But dry-cleaners can be turned into friendly neighbours. An alternative method of cleaning clothes has been introduced into the marketplace. Called 'Greenclean'. it depends basically on the use of soap and water. (Sounds familiar?) These alternatives, claim Greenpeace, work as well or better than pert dry-cleaning, cost less, and can be more profitable.

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