Toxic clothing WARNING: The hidden danger of dry cleaning

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dry-cleaning(NaturalHealth365) Dry cleaning is dirty business.  Unfortunately, many consumers – who take their clothes to be “freshly” laundered – have no idea that the dry cleaning process uses a toxic chemical that may cause cancer.

Perchloreothylne (or PERC), the dry cleaning industry’s chemical centerpiece, has been on scientists’ radar since the 1970s, when studies found that mice that ate or inhaled the chemical were more likely to develop liver tumors. In 2010, the EPA classified PERC as a “likely human carcinogen” as studies showed that workers regularly exposed to PERC had increased rates of lymphomas and esophagus, kidney, cervix, and bladder cancers.

PERC is Classified as a Neurotoxin but STILL Widely Used in Dry Cleaning

There’s nothing dry or clean about dry cleaning. While the process doesn’t involve water, it does use dangerous liquid solvents to clean fabrics such as leather, wool, or silk.  The modern dry cleaning era, which dates to the 1820s, has featured a host of hazardous chemicals, with dry cleaners using materials as diverse as benzene, kerosene, petroleum, and turpentine.

Today, PERC, a chlorinated hydrocarbon, is primarily associated with dry cleaning; it’s also used as a metal degreaser in industrial cleaning.

Despite legislation designed to clamp down on the use of PERC, an estimated 70 percent of dry cleaners still have a PERC machine.  While the substance’s rap sheet has only grown in recent years, little is being done to phase out the use of the chemical.

Just how bad is PERC? The U.S. Occupational Safety and Human Safety Agency (OSHA) links acute exposure to the chemical to the following health affects:

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  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Mild memory loss

How dangerous are these chemicals?

PERC has the ability to poison workers who operate dry cleaning machines, especially if the workspace is small and poorly ventilated. The toxic substance also has profound environmental effects.

PERC breaks down in the air slowly, therefore the slightest leak can travel long distances. According to the New York Health Department, a safe level of PERC in the air is no more than 30 micrograms per cubic meter. Furthermore, a single spilled drop of PERC can eat through concrete foundations, seep into groundwater reservoirs, and leak into surrounding communities.

How safe is it to wear clothes that have been bathed in potentially hazardous substances? It’s impossible to say.

However, in order to avoid the potentially toxic risks of dry cleaning it is best to launder clothes at home. Many dry clean labels are put on as a “cover all” by manufacturers, but most “dry clean only” clothing will come out of the wash unscathed when washed on a delicate cycle.

At the same time, if you’re worried that your favorite wool jacket or silk skirt will be ruined in a regular wash cycle, then find a dry cleaning service that doesn’t use PERC. Water-based cleaning, carbon dioxide technology, and GreenEarth are just a few of the many alternatives to PERC.

Sources used for this article include:

Theguardian.com
Popsci.com
OSHA.gov