QUESTION 1: After almost two decades of increasingly stringent regulation, operators are slowly letting go of perc. Is there a clear winner in the race for a substitute? BILL FISHER: There’s no winner. If you strip away the health issues, perc is as close to a perfect solvent as the industry has had.DAVID COTTER: The higher-end hydrocarbons are starting to emerge—I wouldn’t call them a clear winner, but they are emerging as viable alternatives. Even the EPA is becoming aware that water is only good up to a certain point—and in certain states, there’s a serious water shortage.BARRY GERSHENSON: I don’t see a clear winner, as most Air Management Districts work toward regulating any solvent—government regulators are paid to regulate; surgeons are paid to operate. I’ve seen great improvements in the chemistry [used] with petroleum- and silicone-based solvents, so my guess is that they will become the leading alternatives in the next decade.DAVE SILLIMAN: Hydrocarbons are the No. 1 alternative so far, but silicone is gaining momentum. Class III-A solvents face fire-code issues, and may become the focus of regulators and environmentalists when perc is out of the picture. California is providing incentives to switch to 100% wetcleaning or CO2—neither of which can stand alone as a viable alternatives.JOHN TIPPS: Each substitute has its issues. Any alternative that [wins] government, consumer and owner approval is going to have to be a good cleaning medium, be able to carry spotting products that are easy to use, and produce a clean end product that holds a good hand after finishing. That’s a tall order.Next: How hard has drycleaning been hit by the economic downturn?The panelists: David Cotter, executive director of the Textile Care Allied Trades Association (TCATA); Bill Fisher, CEO of the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI); Barry Gershenson, executive director of Leading Cleaners Internationale (LCI); “Dryclean” Dave Silliman, operator of Uptowne Cleaners in Phoenix, Ariz.; and John Tipps, independent consultant and former operator of Clean Concepts Inc.