Air board backs away from vote to ban chemical in dry cleaning

Sunday, November 3, 2002

DIAMOND BAR, Calif.-- Southern California's air-quality regulators on Friday backed away from a proposed ban, driven by health concerns, on the most commonly used dry-cleaning solvent.

If adopted by the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the plan would have made the greater Los Angeles region the first jurisdiction in the nation to ban perchloroethylene, or perc .

The AQMD staff had recommended the board approve the ban Friday. Instead, board members introduced two alternative perc measures but delayed a possible vote until Dec. 6.

Neither of the two motions under consideration are as strict as the staff proposal to phase out use of the distinctive-smelling chemical by 2019.

Board member Cynthia Verdugo-Peralta, the governor's appointee to the panel, said the initial proposal would place an unfair burden on dry cleaners.

She introduced a proposal backed by the dry cleaning industry that would allow five years to switch over to the most technologically advanced perc machines but not end use of the solvent.

Another proposal would require cleaners to replace worn out perc equipment with non-perc technology without any time limit.

More than 300 dry cleaners from across Southern California attended the meeting, many wearing black armbands in protest.

"I will live another 50 years. They say perc is a cancer-causing chemical, but I don't believe it," said Shinn Young, 55, who has owned a Fountain Valley dry cleaning business for 11 years. "If they had technology that was ready, people wouldn't mind changing. But it's not ready."

Perc has been linked to cancers of the lung, cervix, esophagus and bladder in dry-cleaning workers, agency officials said.

"We want this industry to move to nontoxic alternatives," said Jill Whynot, planning and rules manager for the clean-air agency.

Non-perc technologies include wet cleaning and hydrocarbon- and silicone-based solvent cleaning, which can be more expensive.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has not classified perc as a carcinogen for humans.

Representatives of the region's 2,200 dry cleaners said the regulation would force many out of business.

New York, San Francisco and other cities heavily regulate the use of perc, but none have banned it.

Southern California's clean-air agency grabbed national attention previously by passing regulations targeting house paint, diesel engines and power plants.

Under the proposed ban, new dry cleaners or existing cleaners adding equipment would have to buy non-perc machines after Jan. 1. After July 1, 2004, any dry cleaning machine that is replaced or is 15 or more years old would have to be replaced with a non-perc machine.

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