Deadly Chemicals in Your Dry Cleaning? Hang On to These Healthy Alternatives

by Ron & Lisa Beres on January 10, 2012 · 13 comments

Deadly Chemicals in Your Dry Cleaning Hang On to These Healthy Alternatives

Those of you who remember Joan Crawford’s closet tantrum in the 1981 movie, Mommie Dearest, will agree that wire hangers ain’t got nothing on the real threat of toxic chemicals lurking in today’s dry cleaned clothing.  You should be familiar by now with the crucial role good indoor air quality plays in creating optimal health.  Today, Ron and I share another essential step that will aid in improving the air quality in your home.  But, first, we must look at the source of this hanging, hidden culprit:  dry cleaning.

The most commonly used dry-cleaning solvent, perchlorethylene, is very effective at removing stains and dirt from a wide variety of fabrics without shrinking the material or ruining the colors.  Unfortunately, perchlorethylene (also known as “perc”) is as bad for humans as it is good for stained clothes.  Perc is a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and a strongly suspected carcinogen and air pollutant.  Inhaling or ingesting it can cause cancer, birth defects and a host of other illnesses.  You do not want to add traces of perchlorethylene to your indoor air!

Green Warning: Minimal contact with perc can cause dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and skin and respiratory irritation. Prolonged perc exposure has been linked to liver and kidney damage and cancer. Perc has been identified as a “probable” human carcinogen by California’s Proposition 65. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that clothes dry cleaned with perc can elevate levels of the toxin throughout a home and especially in the room where the garments are stored. Nursing mothers exposed to perc may excrete it in their milk, placing their infants at risk. Perc can also get into our air, water and soil during the cleaning, purification and waste disposal phases of dry cleaning, according to the EPA.

If your clothing has been dry cleaned with perc – and 85 % of the dry cleaners in the U.S. use it today – don’t bring it into your house until the plastic bag has been removed and it has been aired out in a well ventilated place for a few hours, allowing any residual gases to escape.

Better yet, find a cleaner who is offering liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaning or “wet cleaning” a non-toxic alternative to dry cleaning that is becoming more readily available.   A wet cleaner uses water in moderation and selects among various cleaning techniques (steam cleaning, spot removing, hand washing, gentle machine washing, tumble drying or vacuuming) depending on the garment type, fabric condition and soiling.  Experiments have shown that most clothes that specify “dry clean only” can be wet cleaned without damage.

Liquid carbon dioxide cleaning is a method that uses pressurized liquid CO2 in place of perc, in combination with other cleaning agents. CO2 is a nonflammable and nontoxic gas that occurs naturally in the environment.  Although CO2 is a greenhouse gas, no new CO2 is generated with this technology, so it does not contribute to global warming. It may be difficult to find, however, as few dry cleaners are adopting this technique due to the high costs of the machines.

Did you know? California has committed to phasing out perc by 2023, offering grant money to cleaners who switch from perc to CO2 or wet cleaning.

As always, beware of greenwashing!  You may encounter dry cleaners who advertise as “green,” “organic” or “environmentally friendly” when they are anything but environmentally friendly.  Heard of the “Green Earth Method”?  It replaces perc with a silicone-based solvent called siloxane similar to the base ingredients in shaving creams or deodorants called D-5. It is anything but “green.”  The EPA says siloxane may be a carcinogen. Hydrocarbon cleaning methods also pose problems as hydrocarbon is a petroleum-based solvent and carries environmental concerns similar to those for petroleum.

For additional non-toxic dry cleaning alternatives, pick up a copy of our book, Just GREEN It! Simple Swaps to Save the Planet and Your Health.  Finally, don’t forget to visit our prior posts for healthy laundry solutions in Secrets Revealed: We’re Airing Out Your Dirty Laundry! and Dirty Secrets Revealed: We’re Dishing on Laundry! Part II

 

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Maxwell January 17, 2012 at 7:02 am

With all due respect, the EPA never made the statement you claim. There was a “cancer scare” myth circulated in the news back in 2004-2005 but scientific research proved it to be unfounded long ago. For details on this as well as regulatory updates with positive news from both the California Air Resources Board and Environment Canada regarding the safety of GreenEarth for people and the planet, visit the FAQ page on GreenEarth’s website.
http://www.greenearthcleaning.com/?page=FAQs

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Ron & Lisa Beres January 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

Hello Tim,

Actually, the EPA did in fact, make the statement that we reference in this post that “The EPA says siloxane may be a carcinogen.” Here is the EPA fact sheet to prove it: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/d5fs3.pdf
which states:
“EPA has received results of a cancer study on Siloxane D5 in rodents, submitted under TSCA section 8(e). The results of this study indicate that there may be a cancer hazard associated with D5.”
For more information on ‘Siloxane D5 in Drycleaning Applications,’ visit the EPA’s current website HERE.

It appears you are professionally associated with GreenEarth cleaning and we can understand your need to defend your product which, we agree, is a drastic improvement from traditional ‘perc’ methods of dry cleaning. However, as an independent entity, it is our obligation to inform our readers of all potential hazards when known or made available and allow readers to make their own informed choices.

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manish September 30, 2013 at 7:53 am

I am a research analyst currently working on D5 silicone. While studying I found that it had faced many regulatory issues in the past. Can you update me which companies got regulatory issues for D5 which made it to come into news. Even the major players are not increasing their capacities as they think their could be issues in future too.
Do anyone know anything in this regard.
thanks in advance.

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venny settappa January 19, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Hi

READ YOUR ARTICLE VERY INFORMATIVE AND TO THE POINT I AM GLAD I READ IT KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.
REGARDS
VENNY
INDIA

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Ron & Lisa January 29, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Thank you Venny! We will do our best to keep this post updated with information as it arises with new studies and research as it becomes available on dry cleaning methods. Be green & be healthy :)

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Stacy Sopcich January 24, 2012 at 6:44 am

Please accept our apologies in advance for this lengthy response to your Jan. 17 post; explanations that relate to regulatory agencies and science do not lend themselves to short responses, and we do feel it is important that current facts prevail. Although scientific research ultimately laid the 2005 cancer concern about D5 siloxane to rest, no follow up media attention resulted; hence you can still find outdated information online. The EPA statement referenced in your reply links to a 2005 page with a disclaimer at the top that says the EPA no longer updates the information contained in it. And the D5 Fact Sheet you linked to in your reply to prove your point is from 2005. The EPA issued an updated D5 Fact Sheet in 2009. A PDF of the 2009 updated Fact Sheet can be accessed (ironically enough) by clicking on the link in the EPA’s non-updated 2005 page at http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/d5fs2a1.htm.

With respect to what the EPA did or did not say, we respectfully point out that both the 2005 and 2009 D5 Fact Sheets clearly state that they are reporting on preliminary results of a study submitted to them, which is materially different from the EPA providing a cancer assessment and in fact both Fact Sheets state “the Agency has not conducted a risk assessment for D5, and, therefore, is not in a position to characterize potential risks to human health, or the environment associated with D5 use in drycleaning.” It is the EPA’s duty to report on potentially concerning research it receives; hence when it received a preliminary report from Dow Corning indicating that in female rats, continual exposure to 160ppm of D5 was linked to an increase in precancerous uterine tumors, they issued the first Fact Sheet in 2005. In the “How Will EPA Follow Up” section, the EPA concluded with the statement, “In addition to the two-year study, EPA received a series of studies that Dow Corning conducted to determine the specific mode of action for the D5-induced uterine tumors in rats. This information may help determine whether a potential carcinogenic hazard is associated with D5 for humans. EPA is in the process of evaluating these studies, and anticipates that the mode of action analysis will be complete by the end of 2006. If EPA determines that a mode of action has been established, the analysis will subsequently be submitted for an external peer review.” The EPA received and reviewed a great deal of follow on data and information on D5 siloxane and no subsequent review was ever undertaken. In 2009, the EPA issued an updated Fact Sheet and revised the How Will EPA Follow Up section with the statement that they had received the work agreed upon and established a Public Docket to make the data available to the public. Had they been concerned by the data they reviewed certainly we would have seen a different indicated mode of action. To view the reports, go to http://www.regulations.gov, and search for docket # EPA-HQ-OPPT-2009-0180. There are 133 studies currently posted there.

While the EPA did not undertake an independent review, two well respected regulatory agencies have undertaken risk assessment reviews to specifically characterize the human and environmental safety of GreenEarth and/or D5. In 2008, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a statement saying that GreenEarth’s siloxane is an “acceptable dry cleaning solvent alternative and based on the available exposure information, the use of D5 in GreenEarth’s patented dry cleaning process will not pose risk to the public living near businesses using D5.” In 2009, Environment Canada published a final assessment on siloxanes that concluded D5 is not a concern for human health. More recently, in 2011, Environment Canada issued a report on the environmental safety of D5 silicone that concluded it “does not pose a danger to the environment or its biological diversity.” To full their full report, visit http://cdr-siloxaned5-bor.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=60053180-1#tphp.

With respect to how the D5 human and environmental research relates to the GreenEarth Cleaning process, it is important to understand how the dry cleaning application of D5 silicone actually works. In the GreenEarth process, siloxane, which replaces petrochemicals as the carrier agent for detergents in our cleaning process, is continually recycled with in the dry cleaning machine in a closed loop system. Exposure in air is less than 1 ppm over an eight hour time weighted average. It does not go down the drain like water would in a wet cleaning process or like personal care products using siloxane as their base ingredient would. We share this because the D5 studies, like most research, are focused on the safety of chemicals themselves not their applications. The safety of a food or chemical is often a matter of degree. Fluoride, salt and aspirin are all chemicals that can be toxic at high levels, but because their intended applications do not exceed safe limits, and because they provide benefits when used appropriately, we use them every day without concern. Not only is there a large body of research on D5 supporting its safety for humans and the environment; the fact that there is so little exposure to people, water, soil or air in our dry cleaning application of D5 provides an even greater measure of comfort.

Transparency and openness are values we hold in high esteem at GreenEarth. I do hope we did not overstep our bounds with this response but we felt like thoroughness and accuracy are vital when issues of this importance are being discussed in an open forum. If anyone has any unanswered concerns, we invite you to continue the dialogue with us in person. Give Tim Maxwell a call at 816-926-0895. He is the President of GreenEarth and would be happy to talk with you.

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Ron & Lisa Beres January 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Hello Stacy & Tim,

We appreciate you introducing yourself and allowing the opportunity for our readers to ask questions directly to you Tim, the President of GreenEarth® Cleaning, in regards to many of the outstanding concerns regarding the GreenEarth chemical process and health effects of D5.

The goal of this blog is to allow open and honest communication on topics of concern. We are not a manufacturer with ties to selling a particular product; rather, we represent an independent, third party view and aim to bring awareness to health concerns with products related to the home and everyday consumer use.

We have read your response, however, some discrepancies remain. To begin, your initial comments stating both ‘the EPA never made the statement you claim’ and this merely being ‘a “cancer scare” myth circulated in the news’ denied the fact that the EPA’s own
Siloxane D5 in Dry cleaning Applications Fact Sheet (both 2005 & 2009) admits that there may be a cancer hazard associated with D5 based on the preliminary results of a two-year chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity study on D5 using rats conducted by Dow Corning in 2003. Instead, you attempted to discredit and diminish factual findings.

To quote the EPA Fact Sheet, ‘In 2005 after the EPA received the results, testing confirmed the significant increase in uterine tumors following exposure to 160 pap of D5, the highest concentration tested in the study. These results were submitted under section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The 88 page docket was established and can found under docket number EPA-HQ-OPPT-2009-0180 through the EPA’s website HERE.’ Since the EPA has not conducted their own risk assessment for D5, these documents are the latest information available on file and their current stance on the subject of D5.

The 2005 versus 2009 EPA fact sheet reference is irrelevant as both documents are identical except the Follow Up section which, as stated above, indicates the EPA has provided the 88 page docket to make data and information available to the public. Additionally, our second link in our above response, references the current EPA page which links directly to the 2009 pdf .

The additional studies you provide are definitely helpful and somewhat reassuring. However, some concern lies in the fact some of the studies are very environmentally focused versus long-term health affects on humans. For instance, the CARB (California Air Resources Board) whose primary focus is air quality, states GreenEarth’s® siloxane as being an “acceptable dry cleaning solvent alternative based on the available exposure information,’ is somewhat vague. We, too, believe it is an improved dry cleaning alternative compared to past methods which utilize perchlorethylene. Additionally, we appreciate you further explaining the GreenEarth® cleaning process itself in terms of both limited environmental waste and exposure levels.

Finally, we can agree to disagree in regards to your comment regarding substances such as ‘Fluoride…being chemicals that is only ‘toxic at high levels, but because their intended applications do not exceed safe limits, and because they provide benefits when used appropriately, we use them every day without concern.’ This is another debate entirely. Are you aware that as of April 7th, 1997, the United States FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has required that all fluoride toothpastes sold in the U.S. carry a poison warning on the label? The warning cautions toothpaste users to: “WARNING: Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately.” This warning, in addition to a well-recognized side-effect of ingesting fluoride toothpaste, causes a discoloration of teeth called dental fluorosis. Wherein, the fluoride damages the cells (ameloblasts) which produce the tooth’s enamel. Currently the EPA is reviewing whether or not, for the first time in 50 years, to lower the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water based on new research of which revealed that prolonged, high intake of fluoride can increase the risk of brittle bones, fractures and crippling bone abnormalities. This is not the first time that we have seen the case of a substance being approved at one level, only to be reduced later due to newer studies and safety concerns.

We have lived in a society where many manufacturers have been granted an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach to the approval of most chemicals. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act is a perfect example where 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered in with another, over 20,000 additional, added later. Even the Presidents Cancer Panel has recently reported that of these chemicals, only 200 have been adequately tested for their effect on human health and safety. Because of this self policing and outdated policy, we must be our own watchdogs as both consumers and manufacturers. Our question remains as to whether D5 may be carcinogenic. Our concern is whether or not exposure to D5 through dry cleaning applications could be linked to cancer from repeated exposure combined with long-term use.

On this website, we adhere to the precautionary principle which states, ‘that when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.’ This post was not intended to prevent others from using the GreenEarth® method of dry cleaning. Rather, our intention is to make potential risks available and allow readers to make their own informed choices.

We look forward to continuing an open dialouge with you and GreenEarth®. Please feel free to respond and/or provide links to new research and studies as they become available.

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Ron & Lisa April 30, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Thank you kindly for your words and for dropping by The Healthy Home Dream Team website! We appreciate your complements. YES…we will continue to guide others to live optimally by providing the knowledge & resources to reduce the toxic load in their lives.

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Catherine August 14, 2016 at 9:04 am

So in 2016, if there are no CO2 cleaners in our area, how do we get our clothes drycleaned? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Catherine

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Adrian October 4, 2016 at 6:41 am

Anyone?

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