EPA Requires Phase-out Of Dry-Cleaning Chemical

On July 14, EPA announced that it is tightening rules for all dry cleaners that use the chemical perchloroethylene (perc), including a phase-out of the chemical in dry cleaners located in residential buildings.

"This is an important step in our comprehensive strategy to expand and enhance public health protections in the dry cleaning industry," said Bill Wehrum, EPA's acting assistant administrator for Air and Radiation. "The phase-out in residential buildings and improved protections are good for public health and good for the environment."

While the potential for health effects from most dry cleaners across the country are generally low, a small number of dry cleaners located in residential buildings have been found to pose a risk that warrants action, EPA officials said. For residential buildings, the final rule requires the phase-out of perc machines as they wear out. By 2020, dry cleaning machines in residential buildings are prohibited from using perc; they may continue to operate if they use alternative technologies.

In the interim, owners of perc machines will use enhanced technology to detect and repair leaks as they occur. The final rule also will require dry cleaners to use more sophisticated methods to detect and repair perc emissions from large and commercial dry cleaners and small dry cleaners often found in shopping centers.

Under the Clean Air Act, perc is one of 187 pollutants EPA regulates as air toxics, also known as hazardous air pollutants. Air toxics are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health problems. Since the implementation of EPA's 1993 air toxics standards, dry cleaners have reduced perc emissions by about 15,000 tons through increased use of alternative solvents, replacement of older dry-cleaning machines and state and industry programs to improve efficiency and reduce perc use. Nationwide, approximately 28,000 dry cleaners use perc.

For additional information, go to http://www.epa.gov/air/drycleaningrule.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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