The EPA recently concluded that the dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene is likely a human carcinogen, but its still being used.
In a much-needed update to its 1988 assessment, the US-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently concluded that the dry cleaning solvent perchloroethylene (also known as perc and tetrachloroethylene) is likely a human carcinogen. It also acknowledged that the chemical can cause neurological, kidney, and immune problems.
The chemical can contaminate indoor air as well as groundwater, raising serious environmental concerns that the EPA will tackle. Environmental groups hope that the new assessment will lead to stricter regulations that will protect the environment, individuals, and dry cleaning workers alike.
However, the EPA also stated that wearing clothes that have been dry cleaned is likely not a health concern, to the delight of the perc industry.
What about Canada?
Here in Canada, perc is also still used. Its Health Canada document (updated in 1995) claims that although Canada no longer produces the chemical, it is imported and used in dry cleaning. It also raises concerns about groundwater contamination, especially in drinking water from wells.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (in regard to direct contact with perc): “Tetrachloroethylene is TOXIC. The vapour causes irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. It is a central nervous system depressant. The vapour may cause headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, incoordination, and confusion. High vapour concentrations may cause unconsciousness and death. Tetrachloroethylene may cause liver damage. It causes skin irritation. It is an aspiration hazard - swallowing or vomiting of the liquid may result in aspiration (breathing) into the lungs. Tetrachloroethylene is a SUSPECT CANCER HAZARD—may cause cancer, based on human information.”
Even with all of its known and suspected health risks, perc is still used. Perhaps the EPA’s new assessment will encourage Canada to take greater action about the use of this harmful chemical. Citizens can also write to their MPs to make their voices heard, and encourage their friends and family members to do the same.
Safer dry cleaning options
Thankfully, there are several greener options for dry cleaning, including silicon cleaning, wet cleaning, and CO2 cleaning.
A greener clean at home
There are also many steps you can take to lighten your environmental footprint when doing laundry at home.