Washington has reached a major milestone in reducing the use of toxic substances thanks to the successful efforts of the state Department of Ecology’s Product Replacement Program.
Fifty dry cleaning businesses across the state have now switched from using toxic perchloroethylene (PERC) to a less toxic alternative since 2019. However, approximately 60 PERC-using businesses are still operating, prompting Ecology to redouble its efforts to eliminate the hazardous chemical from use.
“This is a huge achievement, not just for Ecology but for anyone who calls Washington home,” said Sean Smith, manager of the state’s Product Replacement Program, “but our goal is to have all dry cleaning businesses move away from using PERC, so there’s still more work to do. That’s why we’re doubling the reimbursement amount for businesses that switch from PERC machines to professional wet cleaning from $20,000 to $40,000 per business.”
The state legislature provided the original funding for reimbursements in the 2019 budget, and recently extended the program during the 2021 legislative session. Interested businesses still using PERC machines can contact Smith at ProductReplacement@ecy.wa.gov or visit Ecology’s website for details on the program.
When spilled or released into the environment, PERC – a persistent chemical known to cause cancer – can contaminate soil, resulting in costly cleanups and impacting worker health. According to a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production, an average dry cleaner uses about 120 gallons of solvent per year. This means that as much as 6,000 gallons of PERC is no longer in use at these businesses and does not pose a threat to human health and the environment.
Since 2018, King County has managed its own program to transition PERC dry cleaning businesses within its borders to professional wet cleaning, however that program ended when Ecology’s funding increased to allow for more reimbursements statewide. Ecology’s increased reimbursements will begin this week, and will be available through at least June 30, 2023. For more information, visit Ecology’s Replace PERC Equipment website.