By: Paula Pearce
Have you ever stopped to think about how the dry-cleaning process works? Well, you probably wouldn’t guess hazardous waste is a by-product.
Across America, dry cleaners use Perchloroethylene (perc), a common chemical solvent used in the dry-cleaning industry, to remove stains and dirt from clothing, leather goods and other fabrics. In fact, perc accounts for a significant portion of the cleaning solvents used by all U.S. dry cleaners.
Unfortunately, perc comes with serious drawbacks. Quite simply, perc is a pollutant. The EPA has classified it as a carcinogen with short-term exposure to a high-level inhalation resulting in irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction and some neurological effects. Chronic exposure may cause neurological illnesses and have adverse effects on the kidney, liver and immune system. According to the EPA, studies of people exposed in the workplace have even found associations with several types of cancer.
Dry-cleaning employees aren’t the only ones that should worry. Perc can end up in our soil or water if solvent-contaminated waste is mishandled. While reported cases of water wells being compromised by dry cleaning solvent contamination have led to increased regulation of perc, it’s up to dry cleaners – and government regulators – to do the right thing for everyone.
Dry cleaners must manage waste that contains perc as hazardous. Here are the keys to effectively managing perc:
- Label (and date) containers used for perc storage as “hazardous waste.”
- Keep containers closed unless adding or removing material.
- Inspect waste containers often for leaks, dents or corrosion.
- Train employees on proper waste management.
- Use licensed waste transporters and facilities when disposing of hazardous waste.