CITY HALL — Six Santa Monica dry cleaners have agreed to stop advertising their services as “green” after an investigation found no evidence that chemicals used in the cleaning process are non-toxic to humans, city officials said Tuesday.
While the chemicals used by the businesses are generally recognized as being safer than the traditional cleaner — perchloroethylene or “perc,” a known carcinogen that is being phased out in California — city officials maintain that calling them “non-toxic” or “environmentally friendly” is misleading and unsubstantiated and violates revised “green” guidelines set by the Federal Trade Commission.
“More and more consumers want eco-friendly products,” said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky with the Consumer Protection Unit, which conducted a joint investigation with City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. “It’s big business these days. That makes it all the more important for consumers to be sure that advertising claims are true.”
The six dry cleaners targeted are:
• Cleaner By Nature
• Courtyard Cleaners
• Dry Clean Express
• Eco Cleaners
• Plaza Cleaners
• TJ Cleaners
Calls to the businesses were not returned or representatives refused to comment.
One of the six cleaners uses a product called “Green Earth” made from a chemical known as D5. The other businesses use a hydrocarbon-based dry cleaning process, city officials said. Neither of the solvents has been proven to be non-toxic, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
The FTC recently issued revised guidelines for environmentally-friendly advertising, which prohibits the use of broad and vague claims and requires any factual claims to be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. If the term “non-toxic” is used, it must be supported by evidence and it must apply to both the environment and individual people. The guidelines can be found at http://www.ftc.org
City officials said the six dry cleaners could not back up their claims.
“We’re glad these companies have started using less toxic chemicals, but marketing them as ‘eco-friendly’ just goes too far,” said Dean Kubani, director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.
City officials began investigating local dry cleaners last year after learning that many were making environmental claims about their cleaning processes, and had doubts about their truthfulness.
Under state law, city officials can demand that any business making factual claims in its advertising substantiate those claims with hard evidence.
Radinsky said there were no financial or criminal penalties associated with the investigation.
“We did not have evidence of bad faith or intentional deceit,” he said. “This is partly an education campaign. We want to make sure businesses are aware of the new rules on what they can and can’t say.”
Owners of all six dry cleaners signed an agreement showing that they understand what the rules are and agreed to not make claims that are unsupported.