The use of Perchloroethylene (Perc, PCE or tetrachloroethene) is very tightly controlled. It can only be used with a permit and all use is monitored and measured to ensure it is not released into the environment. However, even the most tightly controlled use results in some perchloroethylene being released either into the air or as a liquid. Some of it can even be given to customers when they collect their clothes from a traditional dry cleaner.
So why is perchloroethylene so tightly controlled in the UK and why is it being phased out in America?
PCE has been associated with a wide range of severe health and environmental issues. It is also extremely difficult to clean up once the environment has been contaminated.
Perchloroethylene has been linked to health issues including effects on:
- The central nervous system,
- Mucous membranes, and
- Unborn children.
High-level exposure to PCE, even for a short time, can also cause fluid on the lungs, irritation of the skin, respiratory system and eyes, nausea, sweating, light-headedness, confusion, shortness of breath, vomiting, sleepiness, dizziness, headache, difficulty speaking, walking and can cause unconsciousness or even death.
However, long-term chronic perc exposure is associated with a higher risk of cancer, including oesophagus, lymphoma, skin, uterus, lung, cervix, kidney, liver and bladder cancer.
Perchloroethylene also crosses the placenta and can be detected in the foetus and in breast milk. Exposure to perc in the mother has been associated to birth defects in unborn children and health damage to babies that are breast-fed by mothers contaminated by perc.
Will I be exposed to perchloroethylene just by getting my clothes dry cleaned?
That depends on which dry cleaner you choose.
When you get your clothes cleaned in a traditional dry cleaner, there is a high likelihood that there will be some residual perc contamination within your clothes – it is virtually impossible to prevent it. Modern machines are designed to reduce this risk massively, but it is not possible to eliminate it all together. Often suits and jackets will have some padding in the shoulders and collar, which can hold on to some of the solvent even through the high temperature drying process.
The only way to completely eliminate the chance being exposed to perchloroethylene, is to use solvent free eco cleaning. The good news is that solvent-free eco cleaning does not use perchloroethylene and it provides a superior result, with improved cleaning and stain-removal, softer better-conditioned clothes and none of the health and environmental issues.
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