Local Hazardous Waste Management Program aims to remove dangerous chemical by 2025 from dry cleaners  

The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program (LHWMP) project to transition dry cleaners from using perchloroethylene (PERC) to professional wet cleaning technology has successfully transitioned the first five cleaners.

“PERC is a common dry cleaning chemical linked to cancer, liver damage, and neurological problems,” said Ashley Pedersen, policy liaison for LHWMP. “Approximately 190 former and current dry cleaning sites in King County have been contaminated by PERC. The national average cost of clean-up is $200,000”

There are about 75 dry cleaners in King County that use the dangerous dry-cleaning chemical PERC to clean clothes. LHWMP is working to help King County become PERC free for dry cleaners by 2025. This effort is in advance of a possible federal restriction or ban on PERC.

Pictured: Sun Cleaners, a recipient of the grant, shows their old dry cleaning set up.

The goal for 2018 was to provide five $20,000 grants to reimburse dry cleaners for replacing their PERC technology with professional wet cleaning technology. Within weeks of making the grants available, all five grants were issued to shops that transitioned to professional wet cleaning. The shops taking part in the pilot program were Andres Dry Cleaners in Sammamish, Best Campus Cleaners in Federal Way, Country Cleaners in Covington, Sun Cleaners in Seattle, and Wallingford Dry Cleaners in Seattle.

Going forward, LHWMP will offer up to ten $20,000 grants per year until all dry cleaners in King County have made the switch. Five additional grants will be available this fall. The grants are provided through the LHWMP, which is funded by fees on solid waste and sewer services in King County.

“As dry cleaners face a potential federal restriction of PERC, they have an array of alternative cleaning methods that they can adopt,” said Ashley. “Some of these alternatives also pose health and environmental hazards. By offering financial incentive, technical assistance, and education, we can help dry cleaners avoid “regrettable substitutes” and adopt the safest alternative.”

Professional wet cleaning is the safest alternative to PERC because it uses only water and detergent, along with computer-controlled washers and dryer. The cost to switch to wet cleaning is between $45,000 and $60,000, depending on the size of the wet cleaning machine, whether they already own tensioning equipment, and the difficulty of installation. As part of the project, dry cleaners also switch out hazardous spot cleaning chemicals for safer spot cleaners.

Pictured: Sun Cleaners and an employee with the new grant funded technology.

“We realize that this is an industry made up a lot of small family-owned businesses,” said Ashley. “Helping offset this cost keeps people employed while facilitating the elimination of PERC.”

Dry cleaning shops in King County are predominately owned and operated by Korean-American. This project advances King County’s Equity and Social Justice Strategic Plan by working directly with this community to reduce chemical exposure and assist the owners and operators in developing safe dry-cleaning practices.

The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program is a multiagency program comprised of partners from King County Solid Waste Division, Water and Land Resources Division, Public Health, Seattle Public Utilities, 38 cities, and two tribes. This project is part of a larger LHWMP initiative to work ‘upstream’ to prevent the use of harmful chemicals. In April 2018, LHWMP worked with the King County Board of Health to pass a Resolution in support of protecting public health and the environment by reducing exposure to toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

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