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

Bruce Beggs |

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 AmericanDrycleaner.com 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.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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