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Survey: Given Updated EPA Assessment, Most Cleaners Believe Perc’s Days are Numbered

CHICAGO — In light of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) updated assessment that lists perchloroethylene (perc) as a “likely human carcinogen,” 71.6% of respondents to this month’s Wire survey believe the solvent will no longer be a viable option for the average operator within 10 years. Of that group, 37.5% believe perc has another 10 years while 34.1% say it’s only five years.

Approximately 13% give perc another 20 years, while equal shares of 8% peg its time remaining as a viable solvent option as either 15 years or “indefinitely.”

Should the EPA assessment create stricter regulation of perc or lead to a phase-out, it stands to have a major impact on the drycleaning industry. Perc is generally considered the most-used solvent among U.S. dry cleaners.

Among respondents to this month’s survey, 69.9% say they use perc. Other solvents used by respondents include high-flashpoint hydrocarbon (23.7%), GreenEarth (D5 silicon) (6.5%), liquid CO2 (2.2%), Solvair (1.1%), and DrySolv (n-Propyl Bromide) (1.1%).

Cleaners also utilize “other” solvents not on the list provided within the survey, including SolvonK4, low-flashpoint hydrocarbon and water (wet cleaning).

As one might expect, survey respondents who use perc generally reacted unfavorably to the EPA’s findings:

  • “With today’s closed-loop technology, I don’t see how it’s possible that perc is even considered to be a carcinogen. They need to quit subjecting animals to perc and do test studies with cleaners who clean clothes day in and day out. I am a third-generation dry cleaner with a business that’s 101 years old, for what it’s worth.”
  • “One need only handle the product in a safe manner, just like anything else of this nature... An outright ban would be overkill.”
  • “What is the reasoning for the concern? It’s cancer causing but OK to use? Is that like driving a car without brakes?”
  • “Very distressing. We don’t need any more negative press.”
  • “Much ado about nothing. Just another typical government solution to raise the costs without accomplishing anything.”
  • “Perc is dead meat now.”
  • “I have not seen the statistical evidence that makes perc a likely human carcinogen.”
  • “They are the most disruptive group in the business world. Most that work at EPA don’t have a clue about all the past studies relating to the use of perc as a drycleaning agent. They don’t understand that the new equipment available today is efficient and will contain any possible spills.”
  • “Not surprised about the likely classification. Surprised that they didn't go ahead and say they suspect wearing the (drycleaned) clothes to be hazardous.”
  • “Probably scientifically accurate, but likely to be taken out of context by an unscientific public.”

While the Wire survey presents a snapshot of readers’ viewpoints at a particular moment, it should not be considered scientific.

Subscribers to Wire e-mails—distributed twice weekly—are invited to take the industry survey anonymously online each month. All dry cleaners are encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define operator opinions and industry trends.

To sign up for the Wire, click the “Subscriptions” button at the top right-hand corner of this page and follow the instructions.

wire survey graph
wire survey graph

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Dave Davis at [email protected] .