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The Daily Tar Heel

A wet alternative

Cleaners everywhere should move to replace the dangerous chemical

perchloroethylene with a "wet" method that's environmentally sound.


ome dry cleaners in the Triangle area have begun to use materials that create less pollution than before. One business has even gone so far as to adopt an entirely "wet" cleaning method that doesn't use the toxic chemicals associated with traditional dry cleaning.

Standards should be developed to determine exactly which clothes absolutely cannot take this process - and wet cleaning for all other garments should be mandated.

There is great deal at stake. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, dry cleaners are the single largest users of perchloroethylene, or "perc."

Perc is a suspected carcinogen, one that has been associated with cases of breast cancer and the rapid development of malignant tumors in laboratory experiments. Excessive exposure can result in damage to the central nervous system and can have anaesthetic or narcotic effects.

Such dangers are real not only for dry-cleaning employees but also for customers.

Perc is one of the most common indoor air pollutants. People subject to the substance are at risk for lung infections, headaches, nausea, mental confusion, fatigue, depression and memory loss, according to the Gale Encyclopedia for Alternative Medicine.

Of course, these symptoms do not show up in all dry-cleaning employees. But given the potential risks, what would you do if given the choice between dry cleaning and another job?

The substance's negative effects on the environment are on par with the danger to humans. When perc leaks into the groundwater, surrounding its source, as is the case with dry cleaners around the globe, it is expected to remain there for thousands of years. When introduced into the atmosphere, its by-products have terrible effects.

North Carolina's population and environment simply should not be exposed to this chemical - especially when the new "wet" method of cleaning is just as effective with most garments and isn't too expensive.

Despite any protests from the dry-cleaning industry - some members of which might not want to invest in the new cleaning technology - the wet process should be mandated for use with every piece of clothing that can tolerate it.

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