Can dry cleaning give you cancer? The hidden hazards of delicates
With the results of the most recent presidential election, Americans are faced with all sorts of uncertainty in regards to their health. But there are some consumer choices that individuals can make to protect against future illness: cutting down on sugar, for example; exercising daily; and, surprisingly, being careful about how you clean your delicates.
You may not know it, but most dry cleaning isn’t dry at all – and it isn’t clean. Instead of water, professional cleaning processes use a liquid solvent to dissolve stains on garments. This typically involves a chemical known as perc that, while highly effective at getting scuff marks out of clothing, is also a known health and environmental hazard.
Health organizations, including the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have classified perc as a toxin, but it’s still widely used across the industry. In 2012, the EPA classified perc as a “likely human carcinogen”, meaning that prolonged exposure to the chemical has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene, PCE or perc for short, is a chlorinated hydrocarbon used primarily by the dry cleaning industry, but it’s also used as a metal degreaser in industrial cleaning.
In the EPA’s 2012 press release on the subject, the agency warned: “Studies of dry cleaning workers exposed to tetrachloroethylene have shown associations between exposure and several types of cancer, specifically bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.”
In the same year the IARC, found perc to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” based on evidence from epidemiological data and animal studies.
According to the most recent data, the EPA estimates that 28,000 dry cleaners in the US use perc. In 2006, the agency significantly tightened its requirements for the use of air toxins in dry cleaning. A spokesperson for the agency said: “The rule includes a phase-out of perc use at dry cleaners located in residential buildings, along with requirements that will reduce perc emissions at other dry cleaners.”
The requirement includes the complete phase-out of perc machines in dry cleaners located in residential buildings by 2020. New York, Illinois and New Jersey are among some of the states to have passed recent legislation clamping down on the use of perc. But a decade after the EPA ruling, the only state to pass legislation outright banning perc has been California.
The main health risk with perc is not through wearing clothes that have been cleaned with it, but rather, exposure through air or soil. The effects of short term exposure (breathing in high amounts over a short span of time) include dizziness, headaches and loss of consciousness, according to the EPA.
It is long term exposure that can increase the risk of cancer, putting dry cleaning workers and people who live in close proximity to shops at the highest risk.
A 2009 study in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that living near a dry cleaner that uses perc increases the risk of developing kidney cancer. Proximity to a dry cleaner does not mean that exposure to perc is a given. Not all dry cleaners use perc, and many that do send the clothing off-site to an industrial complex away from residential buildings.
Additionally, with correct ventilation and maintenance, the amount that leaks into the air can be minimized.
The National Association for Cleaners (NCA), a trade group that looks after the business interests of dry cleaners, does not view perc as dangerous. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, director of technical services Alan Spielvogel said the latest perc machines are much safer, and that alternatives to perc don’t clean as well. The NCA did not return the Guardian’s request for comment.
As a chlorinated hydrocarbon, perc breaks down very slowly in the air so it can travel long distances, meaning that in urban areas there are trace amounts of it in the air even if there is no dry cleaner nearby. According to air samples of urban areas in different parts of the US, the typical background level of perc is roughly a couple of micrograms per cubic meter.
The New York Health Department recommendations for a safe level of perc in the air is no more than 30 micrograms per cubic meter. The guidelines, however, state that “reasonable and practical actions should be taken to reduce perc exposure whenever air levels are above background”.
The agency has a particular concern that indoor levels of perc in the air are kept as close to background levels as possible...
Source: The Guardian
Questions 1-6: Decide whether the following statements are true, false or not given based on information given in the text.
1. Cleaning processes involve the use of a chemical which can lead to health and environmental risks.
2. There is a scientific link between the use of perc and increased chances of suffering cancer.
3. The EPA has made no efforts to reduce the number of dry cleaners that include perc in their cleaning processes in the US.
4. Air and soil sources infected with perc cause no dangers against people approaching them.
5. The NCA has so far refused to accept and adapt any alternatives to perc in their members’ dry cleaners.
6. If the level of perc in the air is greater than 30 micrograms per cubic meter, then this increases people’s chances of facing kidney cancer.
Please find the answers here.
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