Your business clothes may be polluted with the same carcinogenic dry cleaning chemical that has made Martinsville’s water unsafe to drink. But some healthier alternatives are now available here.
Martinsville — once known for its mineral springs — recently closed down city wells after the dry cleaning chemical Perchloroethylene, also known as perc, showed up in the water. A long-closed industrial dry cleaning facility with improperly stored chemicals is to blame.
Perc, the main solvent used by dry cleaners, also poses potential hazards closer to home. Not only does the chemical leach off clothes into skin, it also escapes into the air.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences claims short-term exposure to perc can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness and memory problems because it attacks the central nervous system.
Perc is associated with reproductive problems, including fertility problems in men and menstrual disorders in women. Studies also show female dry cleaning workers have three to four times higher risk of miscarriage above normal. And perc is also known to contaminate mother’s milk.
The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) classifies perc as a “probable human carcinogen.” It is known to cause cancer in animals. Several studies indicate that perc exposure in humans increases the risk of esophagus, lung, kidney and liver cancers. Water contaminated with perc has been significantly linked to leukemia and cancers of the pancreas, bladder and cervix.
Still, few cleaners have switched to non-perc options available for dry cleaning.
In Indianapolis, one of Tuchman Cleaners’ 30 locations around the city uses the Green Earth process. Instead of perc, Green Earth uses a “chemically inert” and non-hazardous silicone-based solvent called Cyclic Silioxane.
Located at Sunnyside Road and 79th Street, the Tuchman location is not allowed to use the perc chemical because of that area’s environmental regulations.
“More and more dry cleaners are switching out of their own conscience. They are switching over to new chemicals that are out now,” said Pixie Gordon, manager of the Sunnyside Road location, and a worker in the industry for more than 20 years.
Gordon said a few people come to her location specifically because it doesn’t use perc, “but most people don’t know.”
The Green Earth system worked fine in cleaning several items dropped at the Sunnyside Road Tuchman Cleaners. A black polyester skirt, black wool blazer and white cashmere sweater — all stained — came back soft, smelling good and spotless.
Beyond the impact on individuals, the dry cleaning companies have to deal with safe disposal of the chemical: “[Perc] is becoming an issue for dry cleaners because there are limited places to get rid of it,” Gordon said.
Curley’s Cleaners, with four locations around the city, uses a system called DynaClean. Although it still uses perc, the chemical is filtered out of the clothing using high temperatures, so very little to none of the chemical is left in the garments.
“We are going to start looking into alternative solvents. It’s just been hard for us with the economy the way it is. Asking for a $40,000 check to reinvest in the cleaning process, well that’s a lot of money for a family-run business,” said Michael Knowlton of Curley’s.