DIAMOND BAR, Calif. — More than 400 Los Angeles-area dry cleaners showed their opposition to plans that would make them the first in the country forced to give up their industry’s most commonly used chemical.
Perchloroethylene — or perc — has been identified as a likely human carcinogen and linked to chronic kidney, liver and gastrointestinal problems. But dry cleaners said at a South Coast Air Quality Management District meeting Thursday that they have greatly reduced their use of the chemical, and insisted their operations are safe.
“I have not heard one instance where one of our colleagues has passed away due to perc-related cancer,” Young Lin, a member of the Korean Dry Cleaners Association of Southern California, said through an interpreter.
After imposing rules that reduced perc use in new operations by about 90 percent, air district officials now propose banning dry cleaners from using the chemical by 2011.
A few dozen cleaning operations in the district have turned to of one of three suggested alternatives to perc: petroleum-based solvents, computer-controlled “wet cleaning” and liquid carbon dioxide.
Some dry cleaners complained that carbon dioxide operations are too expensive; some of the solvents may have their own toxic problems; and that wet-cleaning is time-consuming and potentially damaging to clothes.
“I cannot put an Armani suit or a Versace dress in a wet-cleaning solvent,” said Robert Smerling, a Brentwood dry cleaner.
Joe Whang, owner of Cypress Plaza Cleaners in Cypress, said he converted to wet cleaning more than three years ago and cleans everything he did as a dry cleaner without problems.
Whang, who made the switch to combat a thyroid problem, said that not only has his health improved, but so has his business.
“In order to start up new, it takes courage,” Whang said. “Fear is the No. 1 handicap.”
Peter Sinsheimer, director of the Pollution Prevention Education and Research Center at Occidental College, said his research has found wet-cleaning equipment to be “less expensive to buy and less expensive to operate” than dry cleaning equipment. His center is in the process of awarding eight grants to set up Southern California wet-cleaning facilities, which are rare in the United States but are more numerous in Europe.
Dry cleaners said they shouldn’t be forced to spend thousands on new equipment, especially because many of them own small businesses that already have made investments aimed at curbing their perc use.
The state classifies perc as a toxic air contaminant, and just over half of perc emissions come from dry cleaners.
Dry cleaners, however, claim the district overstates the cancer risk and point out that new equipment has allowed them to reduce their perc use by as much as 90 percent.