This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its approval of California’s regulations banning the use of perchloroethylene (also known as perc and tetrachloroethylene) in dry cleaning operations by 2023. EPA is required to regulate the use of perc by dry cleaners pursuant to the Clean Air Act. However, its approval of California’s rules means the replacement of EPA’s federal regulations with the state’s more stringent ones and sends California on its way to becoming the first perc-free dry cleaning state.
A little background to put this in perspective… In 1991, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) identified perc as a toxic air contaminant. As a result of its toxic classification, CARB adopted the Airborne Toxic Control Measures for emissions of perc from dry cleaning operations (Dry Cleaning ATCM) in 1993. In 2003, CARB evaluated the effectiveness of the Dry Cleaning ATCM. It found that perc emissions were greatly reduced, but that more could be done and the process to amend the Dry Cleaning ATCM got underway. In January of 2007, amendments to the Dry Cleaning ATCM were adopted by CARB and became state law in December of 2007. These amendments constitute what EPA approved this week.
Why, you ask, is this particular industry’s use of this one chemical getting so much attention? Because perc is nasty stuff (that is a very legal as well as scientific classification…). It is a probable human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). In addition, perc is linked with liver and kidney damage in rodents and neurological effects in humans. Acute exposure can cause loss of coordination, eye, nose and throat irritation and headache. Although EPA gains its regulatory authority over perc from the Clean Air Act, other severe environmental impacts that have been associated with perc include wastewater, groundwater and soil contamination.