Dry cleaner establishments are quite common in urban settings. And so is the contamination that is associated with dry cleaning activities. Such contamination may pose serious health risks due to its nature and resistance to environmental degradation. Specifically, chlorinated solvents (especially PCE) are associated with dry cleaning activities. Such chemicals are toxic, mobile in the environment (especially through their volatile nature), and the chemical pollution they create may persist for decades due to their resistance to degradation.
Historically, other contaminants have been associated with dry cleaning activities such as petroleum based solvents. The first recorded use of an organic solvent (spirits of turpentine) to clean clothing was recorded in 1690.
While modern equipment and preventive measures did considerably reduce the occurrence of accidental spills and leaks at dry cleaning locations, the legacy of decades of dry cleaning activities is still felt today. Thus, if you are or have been living within a block from a dry cleaning establishment you may be at risk to overly a contaminated groundwater solvent plume, from which solvents will evaporate and intrude in your breathing air (a phenomenon called vapor intrusion). If this is the case, you may be evaluated for possible pollution compensation benefits.
Tens to hundreds of million of gallons of chlorinated solvents are used every year. The main mechanism through which contaminants are introduced into the environment from dry cleaners is leakage through a sewer line, according to a recent Regional Water Board study (Izzo, 1992). The following main contaminants (along with their degradation products) are usually associated with dry cleaning activities (all are volatile halogenated organic compounds):
Other pollution contaminants that were historically associated with dry cleaning activities include:
Please note that the historically associated contaminants may still be present in the environment at or close to the historical release area.
More recently, petroleum solvents started to be introduced in dry cleaning, little by little replacing chlorinated solvents. For example:
According to a recent study (HSIA 1999) dry cleaning still accounts for 36% of PCE usage in the U.S. A. (HSIA, 1999). However, with more and more alternative safer chemicals on the market, a total replacement of PCE in dry cleaning operations is expected by 2020.