CITY HALL — Concerned about the environmental impact of harsh dry cleaning chemicals, city officials are considering developing regulations that would force local shop owners to use non-toxic solvents and green methods.
The City Council on Tuesday requested its staff to explore dry cleaning alternatives and prepare an ordinance requiring businesses to use non-toxic and non-smog forming garment care technology.
Councilman Kevin McKeown, who introduced the request, said that while many dry cleaners have phased out perchloroethylene, which is classified as a toxic air contaminant, they have turned to a petroleum-based product also considered environmentally unsound. The ordinance would not take effect for 10-15 years.
“Instead of going to something that really was non toxic and safe, they were introduced to a new product by the petroleum (industry), which happens to be a petroleum distillate,” he said.
The prospect of facing such regulations has raised concerns among some local dry cleaners, including Gary Futterman, who owns Flair Cleaners on Montana Avenue.
Futterman said that many dry cleaners have spent thousands of dollars purchasing new technologically and environmentally advanced hydrocarbon machines since various agencies have ruled that perc machines be phased out over the decade.
“These hydrocarbon machines operate in a safe, self-contained environment with overwhelming majority of solvent being recycled and reused,” Futterman said.
But some environmentalists have criticized hydrocarbon as not being environmentally friendly as advertised, pointing out that the solvent is petroleum based, a source of greenhouse gases.
Futterman said the solvent is odorless and nontoxic.
He added that requiring alternative methods such as wet cleaning and carbon dioxide technologies, both of which are considered to be more expensive, would put dry cleaners out of business.
Wet cleaning, which uses water as a solvent, has been criticized by dry cleaners as being more expensive and for causing damage to fabrics, including permanent shrinkage and discoloring.
“From the expense standpoint, the wet cleaning process adds significant cost to a dry cleaning operation, which I believe needs to be discussed with a representative from the local dry cleaning community before action is taken by the council,” Futterman said.
Hans Kim, who has consulted cleaners since 1998, said that he has helped 80 businesses across the state successfully convert to wet cleaning methods.
“As of today, my wet cleaners clean an average of a quarter million pieces a month,” he said. “This number proves that professional wet cleaning is a viable alternative … to perc or hydrocarbon or any solvent technology out there.”
Peter Sinsheimer, who serves as the director of the Pollution Prevention Center at Occidental College, said that there are about 10 dry cleaners in the state using carbon dioxide while another 125 are exclusive professional wet cleaners.
He said that the ordinance is fair because it would give cleaners about 15 years to comply, which is about the life of a machine.
Larry Aronson, who owns Eco Coastal Cleaners on Ocean Park Boulevard with his wife, Jennifer, said that wet cleaning has faults, pointing out that those who have adopted the method avoid shrinking the garment by running the dryer at a very low temperature, which means more electricity.
Eco Coastal Cleaners, which has been in business for about eight years, uses hydrocarbon.
Aronson said that he recently purchased a state-of-the-art hydrocarbon machine, which cost more than $60,000. He said a carbon dioxide machine would be double the cost.
He added that hydrocarbon is lighter than perc and has the environmental benefit of not seeping into the water table. The new machines also come with containment pans that capture the solvent and recycles it back in, Aronson said.
“I think personally that (carbon dioxide) is price prohibitive,” he said. “There’s a lot of problems with wet cleaning and people that use dry cleaners might go out of the city to get dry cleaning.
“They want clothes looking and feeling nice.”