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Camryn Hansen
Camryn Hansen
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How Deadly is Your Dry Cleaning Part 2 – A Blogger Strikes Back

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After being ignored for several days, a blog I wrote last week on the dangers of the dry cleaning chemical perc caught fire this weekend, inciting comments that were not simply indignant, but personally insulting—accusing me and the Ferrara Law Firm of everything from pseudo-science to fear mongering. One email I received curtly informed me that I suffer from a “lack of education.”

Initially baffled by this (I honestly don’t often get such passionate responses to my Injury Board blogs, which, counter to what some comments suggest, aren’t out to specifically target dry cleaning as the scourge of America, but vary in topic, addressing issues from big tobacco to library legislation), I googled the names of the negative commenters. While I expected some of them to have something to do with dry cleaning, I didn’t expect them all to—but they did. Every one of them owns or runs or works in a dry cleaner.

Before I delve into the meaning of this, I should first make it clear that I am not an attorney; I’m a freelance writer. I don’t get paid to bring in cases against anybody; I don’t get royalties from settlements or jury awards; I don’t get money for anything other than writing blogs, which are just that: blogs. They don’t in any way pretend to scientific authority, and don’t presume to prioritize threats to the wellbeing of Americans. Rather, they are meant to touch on issues of public health and safety with a vigorous skepticism towards products and services that have been shown to pose a level of risk that many people, when informed of such a risk, will not willingly accept.

Such is the case with dry cleaning. For my own part, after getting my clothes dry cleaned a couple of weeks ago (I usually don’t; it was a special occasion) and breaking out in an itchy rash afterward, I decided to research why this might be. Lo and behold, I immediately stumbled on the EPA’s website, which describes the dry cleaning chemical perc (also known as tetrachloroethylene) thus:

Tetrachloroethylene is widely used for dry-cleaning fabrics and metal degreasing operations. The main effects of tetrachloroethylene in humans are neurological, liver, and kidney effects following acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure. Adverse reproductive effects, such as spontaneous abortions, have been reported from occupational exposure to tetrachloroethylene; however, no definite conclusions can be made because of the limitations of the studies. Results from epidemiological studies of dry-cleaners occupationally exposed to tetrachloroethylene suggest increased risks for several types of cancer. Animal studies have reported an increased incidence of liver cancer in mice, via inhalation and gavage (experimentally placing the chemical in the stomach), and kidney and mononuclear cell leukemia in rats. In the mid-1980s, EPA considered the epidemiological and animal evidence on tetrachloroethylene as intermediate between a probable and possible human carcinogen (Group B/C). The Agency is currently reassessing its potential carcinogenicity. -EPA

While a few different comments make fun of the word “probable” in this characterization, as though it’s somehow indicative of scientific and even personal failures on the part of EPA researchers, my feeling as a consumer (not, as I said, a lawyer) is that this established probability is sufficient for me to want to avoid conventional dry cleaning for the rest of my life. Why chance it? The benefits of dry cleaning just aren’t fantastic enough for me to want probably toxic chemicals soaking into my skin—to compound, I might add, rather than exist as an alternative to, the many other environmental and food-based toxins so many commenters propagandistically cite as a lot more dangerous than perc. The probability is undoubtedly sufficient for many Americans to choose alternatives to conventional dry cleaning. Case in point, the state of California has actually banned the chemical perc and plans to phase it out completely by 2023—not to be alarmist, but to benefit public health using the best research currently available.

For those of you who charged me with personally proving that perc causes cancer, you might as well know that I’m not a scientist (nor, in fact, even a pseudo-scientist) and that I can’t prove any of it. All I can do is let consumers know what I, as a non-industry person, didn’t know two weeks ago about the suspected risks of dry cleaning chemicals, but wish someone had told me earlier.

For those of you who argued that perc is relatively safe and doesn’t cause cancer, liver or kidney disease, spontaneous abortions, and/or nervous system depression, what proof do you have? I’d be grateful to see it, for all our sakes. As I’m sure you know, simply saying that it’s safe doesn’t make it safe. It might, however, keep your customers from choosing legitimately safer alternatives—which may be a greater concern to you than the actual health of the public.