Common Dry Cleaning Chemicals Pose a Cancer Risk

Thursday, June 05, 2008 by: Deanna Dean
Tags: dry cleaning, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) When you drive home after picking up your clothes from the dry cleaners do you sometimes notice a faint chemical smell on the clothes? More than likely your garments were cleaned with dangerous chemicals that could harm the workers, the environment and the air in your home. Even wearing dry cleaned clothes may put you at risk says Tracy Smith, a national correspondent for CBS's Early Show.

Dry cleaners now share the same notoriety as gas stations; both are common hazardous waste sites. I was surprised to learn that many banks refuse loans for the purchase of land where there once stood a dry cleaning business.

There is nothing dry about dry cleaning. A wet solvent is used instead of water thanks to a Frenchman in the 1800's named Jean Baptiste Jolly who accidentally spilled kerosene on a tablecloth and noticed that it made it cleaner. An industry of dangerous cleaning solvents was born.

Cleaning fluids were mostly petroleum-based up until World War II but they would sometimes explode if they got too hot, and could cause dizziness or neurological problems. PERC, perchloroethylene, arrived on the scene and was thought to save the day. You couldn't smell it, it was nonflammable, and was the most reliable solvent for removing dirt. However, PERC, a synthetic, volatile organic compound, happens to pose a health risk to humans as well and is a threat to the environment. According to Greenpeace, 70% of PERC winds up in the air or in ground water. The EPA says that it is during the cleaning, purification, and waste disposal phases of dry cleaning that these hazardous toxins can get into our air, water, and soil.

PERC is used by 3 out of 4 dry cleaners nationwide. California has banned the entire state from its use. Massachusetts, New York and Texas are also considering a ban.

It's frightening to hear that you can be breathing PERC and not even know it. The EPA says that, "Breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the human nervous system with symptoms ranging from dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sweating, to lack of coordination and unconsciousness." WHO, the World Health Organization, states that PERC is a "probable human carcinogen."

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services adds that PERC damages liver and kidneys and affects reproductive organs. Though long-term health risks are not yet known, one way or another we all ingest it.

Several good alternatives exist. DF-2000 is the next most likely solvent of choice for small family-owned dry cleaners because it is inexpensive and easy to use; but it is only marginally better in terms of health and the environment. More favorable techniques would be using carbon dioxide and, surprisingly, water, but these processes cost more money.

A licensing fee is often required to use the carbon dioxide method where expensive machines put liquid CO2 under high pressure. Nearly all garments labeled "dry clean only" can be cleaned with water through a process called wet-cleaning. This takes time and skill on the part of the professional, so the cost is higher; but, gratefully, both these methods are toxic-free.

Don't be lulled into complacency if your cleaner claims to be earth-friendly. Ask about the specific methods and chemicals being used. Some will advertise as "green", "organic," or "environmentally friendly" when they are anything but. Beware of hydrocarbon cleaning. Hydrocarbons are petroleum-based and carry all the environmental concerns of petroleum, plus they are a major source of greenhouse gases.

The GreenEarth method is not without its problems either. It uses a silicone-based solvent called siloxane or D-5, a common ingredient in deodorant and shaving creams. Although it's chemically safe, Dow Corning, D-5's creator, did a study that revealed it increased the risk of uterine cancer in exposed rats, which brought a warning from the EPA that it may be a carcinogen.

Another twist to the D-5 story is that when D-5 is manufactured, chlorine is a part of that process, and when chlorine is manufactured the carcinogen dioxin is released.

Silicones Environmental Health and Safety Council responded to this report and released a statement that said their industry has determined that D-5 is safe for its intended uses based on all of the available science and that more than 30 studies support the safety of D-5. It's up to you to use your good judgment in this debate.

In the meantime, when you get home from the cleaners unwrap your clothes and air them outside or in the garage. If you brought them inside the house PERC would float into the air and last up to a week and no one would notice.

Consider that most clothes labeled "dry clean" can be hand washed or put in the gentle cycle of your washing machine with a mild soap.

And next time you spill catsup on your shirt, remember you don't have to put at risk your health or the environment.

In good health, Deanna Dean




NPR SEHSC Statement on D5 November 17, 2005

About the author

Deanna Dean is the Wellness Director for Your Health Coach, a company dedicated to health and wellness education.
Dee is a Wellness & Weight Loss Coach, a Certified Natural Health Professional, is pursuing an ND degree-Naturopathic Doctor, is a certified Raw Chef, certified in Dietary Guidelines from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, former Personal Trainer, Yoga and Fitness Studio Owner, TV and Radio Guest, Health Columnist.
Deanna develops customized programs to enhance the health of her clients, educates, and coaches dieters for safe weight loss.

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