Bill Would Phase Out Dry Cleaning Solvent Statewide
By LAURENCE DARMIENTO
Just three months after Southern California’s smog agency adopted landmark regulations phasing out use of its most commonly used dry cleaning solvent, there’s a bill in the Legislature that would speed up the ban and make it statewide.
The legislation by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, would require dry cleaners throughout California to stop using the toxic solvent perchloroethylene commonly known as perc by 2014.
The bill also would slap a $3 per gallon fee on the purchase of the solvent to create a fund that would assist dry cleaners in the switch to non-toxic alternatives, such as hydrocarbon-based or silicone-based solvents.
“This is an environmental hazard,” said Koretz. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Against fierce opposition by the dry cleaning industry, the South Coast Air Quality Management District adopted the nation’s first ban on the use of perc in December. The regulation phases out perc only within the district’s borders, which covers Los Angeles and three other counties, by 2020.
Koretz said the regional ban didn’t go far enough because perc is so toxic.
Perchlorethylene does not cause smog, but it is suspected of causing cancer in humans. Opponents in the dry cleaning industry say nothing works as well or as cheaply as perc.
Paul Choe, vice president of the Korean Dry Cleaners Association of Southern California, which spearheaded opposition to the district’s ban, was critical of the new effort, singling out the statewide fee in particular.
Choe estimated that a small operation might use 100 gallons of perc per year, with the $300 annual cost for the fee another expense for cleaners already hit by big increases in workers’ compensation and business insurance costs.
“Most dry cleaners are mom and pop operations,” he said. “We are supposed to increase our prices (to make up for our costs), but with all the competition we cannot raise the price to what it is supposed to be.”
There is a second bill in the Legislature by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, which would set the same $3 per gallon fee on perc statewide but not affect the ban.
The Air Quality Management District estimates that 110 cleaners out of 2,100 in Southern California have switched to safer alternatives, which it insists are as effective as perc and just as cheap to use.
However, the alternatives require cleaners to purchase new machines, which can cost $42,000 about $10,000 more than perc machines. The proposed statewide fund would subsidize cleaners’ purchase of the new machines.