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1998 - Worst day of record-setting 1997-98 El Nino storm season [story]


Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, May 4, 2014

DianneErskineHellrigelPerchlorethylene, aka Tetrachlorethylene or “Perc” as it is also known, is produced in large quantities in the U.S. This is a compound that does not occur naturally, but must be manufactured. Dry cleaners are the largest consumer of this product because it dissolves wax and grease. Textile mills and rubber coating makers are also users of this chemical. It can be found in a number of other consumer products, including shoe polish, water repellents, paint remover, printing ink, glue and polishes.

Exposure to perchloroethylene can occur in the workplace, or in the environment when it has been released into the air, in water, on land and even into our groundwater. Food and air can become contaminated and then it can easily enter our bodies. A common example is when we bring dry cleaning into our homes. We can also be exposed when we use products that contain the chemical, when we walk into a dry cleaning establishment, or live near a business that uses perc. Once we are exposed, it is stored in the body’s fat cells.

Perc is known to irritate eyes, nose, throat and skin, and cause nausea, headache, dizziness, vision problems, trouble speaking and walking, and it also can affect the nervous system in ways similar to alcohol. Long-term exposure can be life threatening. Perchlorethylene can cause liver and kidney disease, memory loss and confusion. In higher levels of exposure, it is also believed to cause certain cancers in humans, and it is proven to cause cancer in lab animals. The chemical has been related to the following cancers: esophagus, kidney, cervix, bladder, leukemia, lung and lymphomas.

This chemical is known to react with other volatile carbon substances and cause smog.

DEH_ColumnBecause of the possibility that this chemical may cause cancer, it is wise to limit your exposure. In the workplace, wear gloves, a breathing apparatus, remove food from the area, keep clothing washed regularly, and ask your company to use a safer chemical. For the consumer, consider patronizing a dry cleaning establishment that does not use the chemical perchloroethylene. If you are using a product at home that contains PERC, limit your exposure by using the product outside, wearing a mask, gloves and thoroughly washing when finished. Keep children away from the exposure area. Do not contaminate the water supply by washing brushes or applicating materials in water that goes into the ocean or is recycled for farm use. Instead, discard these items wrapped in several layers of plastic, and preferably bring them to a hazardous waste collection area.

While workplace exposure is of the greatest concern, it has also been shown that people who regularly use a dry cleaner that uses perchloroethylene and brings that dry cleaning into the home is also a greater risk, it is wise to seek out an establishment that is PERC free.  We’re exposed to enough chemicals and heavy metals just walking around, eating, and breathing without adding perchloroethylene to our daily menu. It’s just one more way you can help protect your health, and the people you love.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

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3 Comments

  1. In 2007, the California AQMD passed laws to eliminate machines that use perc. The dry cleaners now use carbon.

  2. Mike Sitz says:

    Dry cleaners have not been the largest users of perc for decades due to advances in the dry cleaning machines. Several decades ago when you went to a dry cleaners, you smelled solvent but not any more. More perc is used for brake cleaning than for dry cleaning these days with the difference being that the dry cleaner is regulated and the home mechanic is not.

    Please site a recent study regarding the issue of residual perc in clothing. The minute amount left in the garment when it comes out of the machine will flash of during the steam pressing of the garment.

    While many cleaners are switching to alternative solvents, most of the ones who continue to use perc do so responsibly.

    I feel that much of the information in this article was poorly researched, outdated, and inaccurate.

  3. John Villa says:

    My family has been in the dry cleaning business since 1965. We work, and still work 12 hour days. We have been in direct with perc for 4 generations. None of us, nor any of our employees over these many years, have any of the ailments you describe. By the way, the largest user/consumer of Perc is the US Government.

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