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EPA Upholds Stringent Calif. Rules on Dry Cleaners

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has upheld California regulations banning the future use of the air contaminant perchloroethylene by the state’s dry cleaners.

California’s Airborne Toxic Control Measure brings a total ban on dry cleaning machines that use perchloroethylene, a possible human carcinogen, by January 1, 2023.

The California Air Resources Board identified perchloroethylene, also known as “perc”, as a toxic air contaminant in 1991. The regulator adopted its current rules on dry cleaning operations in 2007.

The EPA’s announcement means that current federal regulations on dry cleaners using perc will be replaced in the state by California’s more stringent rules. The Californian regulations can now be enforced by the federal EPA.

“We applaud California’s efforts to rid its dry cleaning industry of this dangerous toxin,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “The state’s approach gives consumers healthier dry cleaning alternatives.”

Perc is a man-made liquid solvent often used in the dry cleaning industry, in textile mill operations, by chlorofluorocarbon producers, for vapor degreasing and in metal cleaning operations.

Exposure to perc can occur in the workplace or in the environment following releases to air, water, land, or groundwater. Exposure can also occur when people use products containing perc, spend time in dry cleaning facilities that use perc, live next to dry cleaning facilities, or bring dry cleaned garments into their homes.

In addition to being a possible human carcinogen, perc is associated with chronic health effects including liver and kidney damage in rodents, and neurological effects in humans.

The EPA’s Toxic Reporting Inventory database reports that more than 107,043 pounds of perc were released to the environment in California in 2009, mostly through air emissions.

According to the California Air Resources Board, the state’s estimated number of machines using perc has been steadily dropping. It fell from 4670 machines in 2003 to 2000 machines in 2009. Meanwhile, the estimated number of wet cleaning and CO2 machines – which use less toxic cleaning methods – has almost tripled from 90 machines in 2003 to 253 machines in 2009.

Nationwide, there were 32,000 dry cleaning operations in 2005, and of these roughly 28,000 used perc, according to a paper by environmental research company Eastern Research Group.

An EPA report released in July 2010 found that the agency had failed to meet any of its goals to reduce health risks related to toxic emissions from urban, smaller-area pollution sources  such as dry cleaners.

Ten years after issuing the 1999 Integrated Urban Air Toxics Strategy, the agency’s inspector general said the EPA had still not implemented key activities outlined in the strategy such as establishing baseline risk data to measure progress in reducing air toxic risks.

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