Many dry cleaning stores advertise they are organic, but it doesn’t mean they are better for your health or the environment.
We know that “organic” food is supposed to be free from pesticides and other harmful chemicals, but does the same apply to dry cleaners claiming to be organic? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Many establishments seem to use the term to attract health and environmentally conscious consumers but use chemicals that are either the same as traditional dry cleaners or others that are also dangerous. Meanwhile, the EPA not only allows this fraud to take place, it permits the wide use of these and many other dangerous chemicals because that’s what the chemical industry wants.
Traditional dry cleaning relies on toxic chemicals like tetrachloroethylene, also known as perc, which is likely to be carcinogenic and is neurotoxic and may be linked with Parkinson’s disease. You may think you can avoid perc by going to dry cleaners that advertise themselves as “organic,” but you’d be wrong. For one thing, there is no certification process for organic dry cleaners. In many cases these businesses are capitalizing on consumers’ understanding of “organic” in the context of food. Food carrying the organic label may not be grown with the use of synthetic chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides. With chemicals, however, “organic” simply means a compound containing carbon—which includes perc.
Some organic dry cleaners use DF-2000, a petroleum-based chemical made by Exxon-Mobil. The EPA lists DF-2000 as a neurotoxin and skin and eye irritant. It may be somewhat safer than perc, but it still carries danger for both human health and the environment.
The EPA just added a common dry cleaning chemical, 1-bromopropane, to its list of hazardous air pollutants because it is suspected to damage nerves and cause cancer. This marks the first addition to the hazardous air pollutants list in over thirty years. This doesn’t mean the chemical is banned, it simply means the agency is required to set emissions standards for sources of this pollution.
For those wanting options safer for human health and the environment, experts recommend the CO2 method, which converts carbon dioxide to a liquid form and combines it with non-toxic detergent—though it may be hard to find establishments that offer this service. Delicate clothes can also be “wet cleaned” with regular water and detergent, so you can also ask local shops if they offer this option.
We shouldn’t have to educate ourselves to such an extent to avoid harmful chemicals when we clean our clothes, cook food, drink tap water, maintain our lawns, or engage in any number of activities. Why doesn’t the EPA step in and prevent fraudulent marketing of “organic” dry cleaning chemicals? Because it is easier to look the other way to protect the large companies producing the dangerous chemicals. The sad truth is that the EPA, the agency responsible for safeguarding the public from dangerous chemicals, cannot be trusted to do its job.