A Greenpeace report reveals that customers, dry cleaning workers and the general public are routinely exposed to a cancer-causing solvent used to dry clean the vast majority of clothes in the United States.
The report also cites a government study that links exposure to the solvent perchloroethylene, or perc, to hundreds of excess cancer deaths in U.S. cities. "Out of Fashion-Moving Beyond Toxic Cleaners" recommends that EPA classify perc as a probable human carcinogen and encourages Congress to enact incentives for a transition to pollution prevention cleaning technologies.
H.R. 978 currently pending in Congress will provide a 20 to 40 percent tax credit to dry cleaners that purchase environmentally safe systems.
"These worker deaths should be a wake-up call for the EPA and Congress," said Rick Hind of Greenpeace. "Congress needs to take the necessary steps to protect the public from this dangerous chemical."
Greenpeace and the Center for Environmentally Advanced Technologies are asking EPA Administrator Christie Whitman to declare perchloroethylene as a probable human carcinogen.
The report recommends two cleaning methods that offer the most promise: wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide cleaning systems. Both remove stains better than perc, are toxic-free, and are currently in use around the country.
In the report, Greenpeace also warns that other alternatives marketed by Exxon and GE have not been fully tested for their toxicity.
by Virginia Sutcliffe