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Dry cleaners adjust to new rules

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 5:32 a.m. CDT
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Kyle Bursaw — kbursaw@shawmedia.com Ricardo Gonzalez, of Greenacre Cleaners, finishes unloading a Columbia machine on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, that uses no perchloroethylene. An Illinois law signed in August increases regulation on the chemical in dry cleaning businesses.

DeKALB – The president of the Illinois Professional Dry Cleaners and Launders Association said a new state law that will regulate a chemical used in dry cleaning will have little effect on existing operations.

That’s because dry cleaners have been compliant with the law since they have machines with improved containment systems, said Tom Bartnett, owner of Greenacre Cleaners, 1334 E. Lincoln Highway.

“This is a validation of what the industry is doing, and it’s raising the bar from third-generation machines to fourth-generation machines,” Bartnett said.

The law, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 24, requires dry cleaning machines to have improved containment systems, training for dry cleaning operators, and better reporting on the chemical perchloroethylene.

Perchloroethylene, or commonly referred to as perc, is one of the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process. Bartnett described perc as being a good degreaser and very volatile. He said a good operator can dry clean 1,000 pounds of clothes with a gallon of perc.

But perc is listed as a likely human carcinogen, said Heather Nifong, programs adviser for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s bureau of land.

“We were seeing detections of perc and other volatile organic compounds in the groundwater,” Nifong said. “This [law] was seen as an effort for the stakeholders to come together to find a way to minimize future releases to the environment.”

Perc, in high concentrations, can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, unconsciousness and death, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.

Both Bartnett and Nifong said fourth-generation machines have much better containment systems for perc than their third-generation counterparts. The law also outlaws the selling of third-generation machines in Illinois. Dry cleaners can still use them until they no longer work, but Nifong said it is illegal to sell them or install existing ones in a new location.

Min Kim, owner of VIP Cleaners, 3212 Sycamore Road, said that because perc is a key component of the dry cleaning process, the law will impact him and other cleaners substantially. But he’s still not sure what kind of financial impact it will have on his business.

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