OLYMPIA, Wash. — A state program has successfully helps almost half the dry cleaners in Washington convert from the environmentally harmful perchloroethylene (perc) to safer forms of cleaning.
The state recently announced that, since 2019, 50 dry cleaning businesses have used the Department of Ecology’s Product Replacement Program to switch to less toxic alternatives. There are about 60 other cleaners still using perc, however, so the program’s managers are redoubling their efforts.
“This is a huge achievement, not just for Ecology but for anyone who calls Washington home,” said Sean Smith, manager of the state’s Product Replacement Program, “but our goal is to have all drycleaning businesses move away from using perc, so there’s still more work to do. That’s why we’re doubling the reimbursement amount for businesses that switch from perc machines to professional wet cleaning from $20,000 to $40,000 per business.”
The program is designed to provide reimbursement funding, collection and disposal services and opportunities for businesses to transition to less toxic options. In addition to being able to apply for up to $40,000 to switch to wet cleaning systems, the program also offers funds — up to $10,000 — for cleaners wanting to convert to hydrocarbon dry cleaning systems.
The state legislature provided the initial funding for reimbursements in the 2019 budget and recently extended the program during the 2021 legislative session.
When spilled or released into the environment, perc – a chemical known to cause cancer and does not break down – can contaminate soil, resulting in costly cleanups. According to a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production, an average dry cleaner uses about 120 gallons of solvent per year. This means that as much as 6,000 gallons of perc are no longer in use at these businesses in Washington.
In addition to perc, the program is also targeting other environmental threats such as auto degreasers, firefighting foam, recreational foam and mercury thermostats.
For more information about the program, visit the program’s website.