No Solvent Is Safe from Scrutiny

Kenney Slatten |

When it comes to environmental issues, logic doesn’t always prevail. And cleaning up the environment is something we all want to do — if what it takes fits into our idea of reasonable sacrifices for everyday life.
Unfortunately, the government doesn’t see the logic in drycleaners’ convenience or business success. Small businesses represent the core of the economy. Though we don’t generate the earnings some businesses do, we are an important piece of the economic puzzle.
Did you know that Pizza Hut made more money in 2007 than drycleaners did? Even though we spend our days scraping food off people’s clothes, we apparently aren’t as popular as a stuffed crust. But that’s another story for another day — regulations are on my mind today.
On the West Coast, we’ve watched and battled every step of the way as California’s EPA and Air Resources Board (ARB) whittled away the industry’s options. In 1991, the Science Advisory Board (SAB) and a little-known arm of the state EPA called the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) declared perc a Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC).
That came after the Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) and a nine-member panel known as the Scientific Review Board (SRB) had put perc on the list of 189 so-called “toxic” chemicals — never mind that peanut butter and saccharin once made the blacklist, too.
This didn’t happen overnight. California first called for an OEHHA study on perc’s health effects in 1983. The jobs created by the bill kept the unemployment rate down in 1983, too, by fostering more bureaucracy.
This was also the year that the federal government declared that waste from drycleaning solvents should be removed and processed by a licensed waste hauler. The world changed in 1983, though many didn’t realize it until California stepped up its reliance on scientific studies, emboldened by the Clean Air Act revisions of 1991.A REGULATORY VANGUARD
We kept waiting on the sidelines to see what would happen. Now, we know: California will ban perc on or before 2020. California is a leader in the so-called development of “greener” chemicals and a leader in the control of recognized toxic substances, and the move will influence every state in the nation. Eventually, the hammer will drop on perc in the other 49.
As the industry attempted to counter the regulation of chlorinated solvents, the current roster of alternatives sprang up, each with advantages and disadvantages. Of those now on the market, hydrocarbons — the synthetic cousins of the original petroleum solvents such as Stoddard — have emerged as the most popular.
Exxon’s DF-2000 has so far avoided government scrutiny except in the area of air pollution. The U.S. EPA likes liquid CO2, while many drycleaners think that it doesn’t clean effectively enough. D5 silicone, the foundation of GreenEarth Cleaning’s formula, has attracted the scrutiny of our neighbors to the north, who may declare it toxic. I doubt that it is, but that’s how governments work — no solvent is immune to scrutiny, including water.
Since the U.S. EPA named many solvents to its list of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP), many states slapped a “toxic” label on them. “Toxic” is a word that’s often misused by the scientific community. Flawed testing puts solvents on a “nasty” list, and manufacturers and users have to scramble to save them from extinction. Where and when will it end?
Just three weeks ago, the federal EPA issued an updated toxicological review of perc, stating that it now sees perc as a “likely” human carcinogen. The proposed reclassification could devastate the industry, the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI) says. Perc and the alternatives continue to be subjected to overzealous regulation and junk science. Only you can help the industry fight this battle.

About the author

Kenney Slatten

Drycleaner, Launderer, Trainer, Consultant

Kenney Slatten is a third-generation drycleaner and launderer from Houston, Texas. Since 1987, he has specialized in training and environmental plant certification as an independent consultant. Contact him by phone at 800-429-3990, via e-mail at, or visit


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