Dry cleaning is a process of cleaning clothing or textiles which uses chemical solvents rather than water. Most of the time, a solvent called perchloroethylene (which is also known as ‘perc’) is used to clean the fabrics. Dry cleaning is useful for very delicate fabrics that would be destroyed if they were being tossed around in a washing machine or a clothes dryer and it is a lot less labour intensive than hand washing.
Unfortunately, although dry cleaning is very convenient for washing our clothes, it can be very damaging to the environment. The by-products of this chemical process are a lot more harmful than you might realise.
The Waste Produced by Dry Cleaning
Your average dry cleaning shop produces a number of harmful waste products, which include solvent, soils, carbon, dyes, grease, and powdered filter material. The filters that are used in the machines are hazardous waste, as well as the perchloroethylene. When these chemicals come into contact with humans and other animals within the area, they have a definite negative effect on the health and well-being of everyone who is exposed to them.
Many studies have revealed how dangerous perchloroethylene is for human health. It has been shown to cause fertility problems, menstrual irregularities and even spontaneous abortions in women who work within the dry cleaning industry. Also, when there is a dry cleaning plant in the community these chemicals can seep into the drinking water and cause some serious health problems. Doctors have linked this chemical to liver damage, kidney disease and much more. It has also been identified as a likely carcinogen according to the International Association for Research on Cancer.
Perchloroethylene is classified as so dangerous to humans that it must be handled as hazardous waste. Also, when it is released into the air, it can contribute to smog and can react with other volatile organic carbon substances. Even more frightening, a study recently conducted at Georgetown University shows that perch stays in your clothes after you have dry cleaned them, which means that this chemical is against your skin and contaminating your body. The perch levels within the clothes increase with repeat cleanings.
We have known that perch has negative effects on human health for many years, so why is it still being used within dry cleaning franchises? It is important to reinforce the dangers of this environmental hazard so that we can make the water we drink safer for our children.Once perch has entered your body, it can become stored within your fat tissue. This will have a serious effect on your long term health and will increase your risk of cancer and other diseases.
Reactions to the Toxicity of Dry Cleaning
Once it was discovered just how harmful dry cleaning was for the environment, what was the reaction among environmentalists and dry cleaning companies?
Once the threat was addressed, many environmental consultants began to be more vigilant to the threat of water pollution from dry cleaners in the community. There are a number of environmental data resources that help to track where environmental pollutants exist, or used to exist. These maps are designed to show the high risk environmental pollutants in the region throughout history, showing where gas stations, manufactured Gas Plants and dry cleaners would have been.
Perch dry cleaners are now subject to government regulation and there are strict rules about how they can dispose of their toxic substances. There are also many important air quality rules and regulations that apply to Perch Dry Cleaning operations and the emissions that they make. Environmental inspectors are keeping a close eye on this industry to ensure that operators comply with the regulations.
In response to consumer complaints, many dry cleaners have started to look into switching to alternative methods of cleaning. Hydrocarbon solvents have been used, which tend to work just as well as the standard dry cleaning chemicals but don’t have the harmful side effects. Also, a wet cleaning system that uses water and biodegradable soap has been successful on suede, wool, leather and silk clothing.
If we can be aware of this risk and discover new ways of cleaning our clothes, we can decrease the negative effect that dry cleaning has on the environment.
This is a guest post by Marshall Peterson, a freelance writer, blogger and environmental activist. He has been involved in environmental charities for years and volunteers to clean up wetlands in his own hometown.