April 28 is Arbor Day and National Planting Day in the United States, and two of our ESOP Committees — the Wellness and Green Committees — joined forces to host a planting event for our employee-owners. Studies have shown that plants are proven to enhance the workplace by reducing stress, increasing productivity, reducing sickness and absence, creating a better environment in which to work, improving air quality, reducing noise, and increasing creativity.
Employee-owners from the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine offices participated in the event, which happened to be a gorgeous, sunny day throughout New England. Everyone enjoyed the activity, had a lot of laughs, and brought their plants back to their workspaces to brighten things up. In the spirit of cooperation and teamwork, several of our employee-owners planted for those who were out of the office and unable to attend. Overall, the event was a fun way to enjoy some sunshine and good company, and to improve our workspace and environment.
A staple of American corporate and family life for decades, dry cleaning poses environmental and health concerns due to the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process when not handled properly. Since the 1960’s, the majority of dry cleaners have utilized perchloroethylene, or perc, for their operations. Perc, which is also used to degrease metal machinery and in the manufacture of consumer products, is a known environmental and health hazard. While improved operational standards and modernized equipment have reduced impacts to soil and groundwater, there is still the risk of accidental spills, leaks, and contamination.
Human risks include non-cancerous effects such as kidney, liver, neurological, immune, and reproductive system damage, and risk increases proportionally to the amount and duration of exposure. High levels of brief perc exposure often produce symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye, and mucous membrane irritation, while long-term exposure can cause more serious problems. After laboratory testing of rats and mice as well as studies of dry cleaning industry workers, EPA has concluded that perc is a likely human carcinogen, and has included it as part of a category of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It is important to note, however, that there has been no indication of increased cancer risk from simply wearing dry cleaned clothing.
Perc can enter the air, water, and ground during the cleaning, purification, and waste disposal phases of dry cleaning. Perc is released into the air through windows and vents, and, after a few weeks, breaks down into toxic and ozone-destroying chemicals. Perc that enters the ground through spills and leaks is highly toxic to plants, and, because perc does not bind well to soil, it travels very quickly into surface water, groundwater, and drinking water supplies. Even the smallest amount of perc can contaminate a large volume of water and be toxic to marine life, and EPA has set a limit on the amount of perc that is allowed to be in drinking water due to its toxicity. In addition to being detected in air, soil, and water, perc has also been found in food and breast milk. In fact, the dangers of perc are so plainly evident that, in 2007, the state of California passed legislation requiring the total phase-out of perc by 2023. In response to this legislation, the number of statewide traditional dry cleaners has dropped from 4,000 to less than 2,000 while the number of chemical-free dry cleaners, dubbed “wet cleaners,” has tripled.
Unfortunately, studies have indicated that 75% of operational dry cleaning establishments as well as countless former dry cleaning sites are contaminated. Costs to mitigate contaminated sites can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and many dry cleaners have simply been unable to afford the cost of cleanup. In an effort to assist dry cleaning business owners with these significant costs, 13 states have implemented programs to help with the cost of cleanup, and many more are considering such programs.
Established in 1998, the State Coalition for Remediation of Drycleaners (SCRD) is supported by the U.S. EPA Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and is comprised of representatives of states with dry cleaner remediation programs in place. The funding programs are as follows:
Alabama Drycleaning Environmental Response Trust Fund (DERTF)
Connecticut Drycleaning Establishment Remediation Program
Florida Drycleaning Solvent Cleanup Program
Illinois Drycleaners Environmental Response Trust Fund
Kansas Drycleaning Program
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Drycleaner Fund
Missouri Drycleaner Environmental Response Trust (DERT) Fund
North Carolina Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act Program
Oregon Dry Cleaner Program
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: Drycleaning Restoration & Technical Assistance Section
Tennessee Drycleaner Environmental Response Program
Texas Dry Cleaning Remediation Program
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Dry Cleaning Environmental Response Program
States without specific dry cleaner programs may participate in SCRD as “Represented States” if they have active remediation programs under other authorities. Currently, Alaska, California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia are SCRD Represented States. In addition to these states, several others, including Massachusetts, are considering similar legislation. More information on these programs and resources can be found here.
With the increased burden of toxins on our environment, and with limited funding for remediation of dry cleaner sites, finding the most cost-effective and efficient means of mitigating site contamination is paramount. This includes second opinions, alternative mitigation techniques, and, in instances of pre-existing contamination, litigation. In the end, the most important factor is improving our health and the environment in which we live by reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals from the ground, water, and air. California may just have the right idea.
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