California regulators have enacted the United States' first statewide ban on the most common chemical used by dry cleaners, pleasing environmentalists but worrying some small businesses.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California regulators have enacted the United States' first statewide ban on the most common chemical used by dry cleaners, pleasing environmentalists but worrying some small businesses.
By 2023, no more dry-cleaning machines that use the toxic solvent perchloroethylene, a potential carcinogen, will be permitted in the state.
The regulation by the California Air Resources Board will phase out the fluid next year, banning dry cleaners from buying machines that rely on the solvent. The state's 3,400 dry cleaners who now use it must get rid of machines that are 15 years or older by July 2010.
"Dry cleaners have known this is a problem for quite some time," board member Dorene D'Adamo said. "There is a cost to society, and believe me, taxpayers are paying for it."
The rule was approved unanimously Thursday by the seven-member board and was embraced by environmental and health advocates. They urged the board to accelerate the ban because of the chemical's health effects. The solvent has contaminated one in 10 wells in California.
Cleaners said eliminating the most common dry cleaning solvent could drive them out of business because alternative methods are unproven and more costly.
"It could shut down some mom-and-pop operations -- the little guys that can't afford it," said Bob Blackburn, president of the California Cleaners Association.
The cost of converting could be significant for dry cleaners, 85 percent of which are small business with a slim profit margin. Replacing a machine that uses perchloroethylene can cost between $41,500 and $175,000 (euro32,000 and euro135,000).
Although the air board did not endorse a substitute, the regulation would give cleaners a $10,000 (euro7,700) incentive to buy a machine that uses carbon dioxide or a what is known as a "wet cleaning" system.
Environmentalists urged the board to ban the most common alternative, which uses hydrocarbons. Critics said it could lead to increased ozone pollution.
The board's vote follows similar action five years ago by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Southern California. That agency became the first regulatory body in the country to ban perchloroethylene, forcing more than 2,000 dry cleaners to stop using the chemical by 2020.
Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the chemical for dry cleaners in residential buildings by 2020. But those operations are a small fraction of the nation's cleaners, said Jon Meijer, vice president of the International Fabricare Institute, an industry association based in Maryland.
California declared perchloroethylene a toxic chemical in 1991. State health officials told the air board Thursday that it can cause esophageal cancer, lymphoma, cervical and bladder cancer. The solvent, which has a strong, sweet odor, also can affect the central nervous system.
About 70 percent of the state's dry cleaners use the chemical and will be affected by the regulation.
Source: Associated Press