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EPA Proposing to Reduce Air Toxics Risks from Dry Cleaners

Release Date: 12/09/2005
Contact Information:

Contact: John Millett, 202-564-4355 / millett.john@epa.gov

(Washington, D.C.-Dec. 9, 2005) Based on recent analyses of health risks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a rule to reduce emissions of perchloroethylene (perc) from dry cleaners.

"Risks from most dry cleaners across the country generally are low, and our proposed requirements would make them even lower," said Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator for air and radiation. "But based on what we now know about the risks from perc dry cleaners, a small group of dry cleaners located in apartment buildings requires closer examination. We are asking the public for additional information that could help us develop strategies to reduce these risks more quickly."

More than 28,000 dry cleaners of all sizes and types in the United States use perc, a solvent, in the dry cleaning process. Perc is one of 188 pollutants EPA regulates as air toxics, also known as hazardous air pollutants. Air toxics are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer and other serious health problems. Since the implementation of EPA's 1993 air toxics standards, dry cleaners have reduced perc emissions by about 15,000 tons a year through increased use of alternative solvents, replacement of older dry-cleaning machines, and state and industry programs to improve efficiency and reduce perc use.

The proposal would amend EPA's 1993 air toxics standards to further reduce perc emissions from large industrial and commercial dry cleaners, freestanding small dry cleaners, and small dry cleaners located in apartment buildings.

In developing risk-based standards to reduce health risks from air toxics, EPA strives to ensure that those standards provide the maximum feasible amount of protection. The Agency does this two ways. First, EPA tries to limit an individual's cancer risk to approximately 100 in 1 million. This means that a person living near a facility and exposed to maximum concentrations of a pollutant for a 70-year-lifetime would have no more than a 100 in 1 million chance of getting cancer as a result. Second, the agency strives to protect the largest number of people possible so that their individual cancer risks are no higher than approximately one in 1 million.

The proposal includes the following requirements:

Large Industrial and Commercial Dry Cleaners: There are 15 large dry cleaners in the United States. These dry cleaners are covered by EPA's 1993 maximum achievable control technology standards. The proposed amendments would reduce risks by up to 90 percent by requiring that these dry cleaners meet equipment standards and conduct enhanced leak detection and repair on a monthly basis.

Freestanding Small Dry Cleaners: Freestanding small dry cleaners are the type of dry cleaner you might see in a strip shopping center or as a stand-alone building. Estimated risk to most people living near these dry cleaners generally is below 10 in 1 million. The proposed amendments would reduce these risks by about 20 percent by requiring that the approximately 27,000 freestanding dry cleaners meet equipment standards and conduct enhanced leak detection and repair. In addition, all existing small dry cleaners would have to eliminate machines that require clothing to be transferred from one machine to another for drying.

Small Dry Cleaners in Apartment Buildings: About 1,300 small dry cleaners using perc are located on the ground floor of residential buildings. Like freestanding small dry cleaners, these "co-residential" cleaners are covered by standards issued in 1993. Because apartments in these buildings are located very close to these dry cleaners, residents' exposures and their estimated cancer risks can be much higher than for typical area source dry cleaners. Based on the data evaluated for this proposal, estimated maximum cancer risks for people living in some of these buildings might be in excess of 100 in 1 million. EPA is proposing two options for addressing co-residential dry cleaners. Under a risk-based option, no new perc machines could be installed at these facilities. Dry cleaners eventually would have to phase out existing perc equipment as it wears out, eliminating risk from these facilities in about 15 years. Under a technology-based option, EPA would issue requirements based on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's dry cleaning regulations. These requirements would include equipment to recover perc solvent from vapors and to trap perc emissions from dry cleaning equipment. For both options, EPA is requesting additional information to help reduce risks more quickly.

The proposed rule would not affect dry cleaners that do not use perc, or those that send clothes off-site to be cleaned.

EPA will accept public comments on this proposal for 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register. For more information on the proposed rule and instructions on submitting comments, http://www.epa.gov/air/drycleaningrule