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Californians Send 42% Of Their Refuse To Recyclers

by William J. Kelly Friday, Jul. 26, 2002 at 9:00 PM 626-441-2112 1852 Oxley St., South Pasadena, CA 91030

The "power suit" is threatened by air agency rule, say LA drycleaners.

Los Angeles Air Agency Plan Threatens The Power Suit, Dry Cleaners Say

By William J. Kelly

Copyright Southland Reports, 2002

The power suit is under siege in Los Angeles. So say the area’s dry cleaners, who fret that the crisp, tailored look Angelenos aspire to will soon be a thing of the past.

Indeed, haute couture may be a casualty of worries about the relatively high cancer risk suffered by people who live and work next to their friendly neighborhood cleaner.

“The greatest concern is for people who work and live in close proximity to cleaners,” said Sam Atwood, spokesperson for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

To protect the unsuspecting, SCQMD is developing a regulation, that if adopted this fall, would ban 2,200 cleaners in greater Los Angeles from using perchloroethylene, long the cleaning fluid of choice for business wear and other fine garments.

Perchloroethylene emitted by dry cleaners poses an increased risk of cancer of up to 1.4 in 10,000, according to the SCAQMD. In addition, the California Air Resources Board says that studies have shown perchloroethylene has caused liver toxicity, kidney damage, and neurological effects in people who work with it.

Regulators at SCAQMD are encouraged by the success of wet cleaning, a non-toxic process developed in Germany in 1989. They hope their regulation will encourage Los Angeles cleaners to shift to water.

Cleaners are skeptical.

“I’d be extremely weary about throwing some guy’s ,500 wool suit in there,” said dry cleaner Scott Bell of the wet cleaning equipment. Bell is on the board of the Greater Los Angeles Dry Cleaners Association and owns Bryan’s Cleaners in Pasadena, a bedroom community for many downtown Los Angeles lawyers, bankers, and other professionals.

Area cleaners worry that it would be hard to train their low-skilled, low paid work force to operate sophisticated wet cleaning machines, which use a computer to carefully control the mix of water and detergent and the drying time for each garment being cleaned. Wet cleaners then use stretchers to shape the garments while pressing them.

The increased time it takes to “finish” garments is what concerns dry cleaners, said Bell, because it increases labor costs. “I don’t think I could compete economically if I wet cleaned,” he said. “The pressing time is too great.”

He predicts that if the air agency’s board adopts the rule, cleaners will revert to using petroleum solvents, instead of moving to wet cleaning. Such a shift would actually worsen smog by adding to the area’s air each day up to two tons of reactive hydrocarbons -- key building blocks of summertime ozone.

However, the air district remains optimistic about water-based cleaning technology.

“Wet cleaning has a long track record of being able to successfully clean business attire,” said SCAQMD’s Atwood.

Indeed, an agency report indicates that 60% of the cleaners in Europe now use wet cleaning, although most of those still make some use of conventional cleaning systems. There are 195 wet cleaners in the United States and Canada, according to the report.

Eight wet cleaners operate in the Los Angeles area. Two of them – Cleaner By Nature in environmentally-conscious Santa Monica and Cypress Plaza Cleaners – have been able to clean more than 99% of the thousands of garments brought to them, according to the Occidental College Pollution Prevention and Education Research Center. The center has been studying wet cleaning for the air district.

SCAQMD expects its governing board will consider adopting the rule in October. If so, it would prevent any new cleaner opening after Jan. 1 to use perchloroethylene. In addition, the measure would ban replacement of any perchloroethylene cleaning equipment beginning July 1, 2004. Finally, it would require area cleaners to replace any perchloroethylene equipment that is at least 15 years old with wet cleaning machines or other devices.

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