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How Cleaner’s in New York City are really “dirty”: the toxic chemical perc is continuing to cause damage and significant injuries despite knowledge of its danger:

You may recall when Jack Nicholson turned into the Joker when he fell into a vat filled with chemicals. This chemical is the same chemical used daily at approximately 3500 dry cleaners where New Yorker’s get their suits and dressed laundered. It is also where 10,000 people work daily. This chemical, perchloroethylene or perc has been known to cause serious harm and damage to our liver, kidney’s, blood and immune system since 1993. Despite this, and attempts by the EPA to reign in its use, it is used daily by so many. In addition, some are concerned of its ability to cause damage to neighbor’s and those living in apartments and buildings nearby.

Crain’s Magazine reported on this recently. California has banned the solvent since 2007. Dry cleaners, they advise are required to post a sign saying they use perc, but landlords’ obligations to tell tenants there is an issue is less than clear.

This growing concern has resulted in the Federal environmental authorities to mandate that perc dry cleaners in apartment buildings pose an unacceptable health risk and must vacate nationwide by 2020. The solution is to upgrade technology and equipment so that it can clean clothes with non perc machines. However with revenue and profits continuing to shrink this choice is an option many are not choosing.

As per Crain’s over the last 10 years the industry’s revenues nationwide have sunk 13%. Here in New York City, rents and costs of labor have increased dramatically and the last thing most business owners want to hear is that they must spend any limited profits on upgrading machinery. However, it is right around 20 years when the machines that use perc begin to leak lots of vapor. So some, quarantine the machines behind glass walls.

In 1997, New York began implementing rules to require that old machines be replaced with models that wash and dry clothes, eliminating the need for workers to carry perc soaked clothes from one machine to another; and to instal fans inside the machines to capture the vapors so workers wouldn’t inhale a plume when they opened the doors.

Sadly for James Doherty who was working at that time at a Harlem building which had an industrial dry cleaner the regulations came a bit too late. Just a year on the job, he was hospitalized with bright red urine and had kidney failure. He sued and was successful in recovering some monetary damages.

You can read the full story from Crain’s by linking to the article at