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Common dry cleaning chemical could be hazardous to your health

On Behalf of | Aug 4, 2017 | Environmental Law |

Many Georgia residents take their clothes, winter coats and bed comforters, among other things, to the dry cleaner without thinking about the chemicals involved in the process. They simply count on dry cleaners to get out stains while cleaning their items. 

One of the chemicals commonly used in the process is perchloroethylene, or perc, which is a powerful solvent that removes numerous stains in dry cleaning. This can be good for business but bad for your health if enough of it gets released into the environment. 

Does perc have other uses?

Other than dry cleaning, the following items and industries also use perc:

  • Auto paint
  • Auto repair shops
  • Auto manufacturing
  • Industrial degreasing activities
  • Shoe polish
  • Typewriter correction fluid
  • Electroplating
  • Chlorofluorocarbons

This is not an exhaustive list of industries or consumer products. 

Perc is toxic

Perc is a sweet-smelling and colorless liquid that turns into a gas when exposed to air. At the same time, it contains chlorine atoms, which weigh more than water. Perc can pollute the air and the groundwater due to its atomic structure.

The toxicity of this chemical to humans prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to establish five parts per billion as the maximum contaminant level of perc in water. This level does not allow you to smell or taste the substance, which is significant because you can smell perc at concentrations above one part per million.

Exposure to perc

Exposure to this toxic substance occurs through the following manners:

  • Skin absorption
  • Ingestion
  • Inhalation

Perc also passes to children in breast milk.

Health effects of exposure

Health effects vary depending on the duration and concentration of the exposure and range between skin irritation and death. Perc exposure can cause a variety of cancers, including the following:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Colon-rectum cancer

Chronic exposure can even affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and cause a mother to suffer from a spontaneous abortion.

What to do next

Most exposure to this toxic chemical occurs through a victim’s employment. However, that is not always the case. People who suffer from otherwise unexplained illnesses may need to conduct some research regarding their environment. If you find perc in toxic concentrations in the groundwater, some industry may use the chemical and not follow federal guidelines to keep it from contaminating the environment.

If you need help in this endeavor, an environmental attorney may be able to assist you, and then help you with the filing of litigation, if appropriate.