In February 2005, Body1 published a story featuring the latest safety research of an alternative dry cleaning method GreenEarth, which uses a chemical named D-5. At the time of the article’s publication in February, the Silicones Environmental Health and Safety Council (or SEHSC) submitted a report showing an increased prevalence of uterine tumors and an increased liver weight in rats that had been exposed to D-5. However the SEHSC maintained these health risks were specific to rats and not dangerous to humans. In June 2005 the SEHSC submitted a final risk research report to the ARB, OEHHA, the Department of Health Services and the U.S. EPA. The SEHSC’s latest research asserts their findings of rat-specific risks and human safety.
In October 2005, the California Environmental Protection agency issued a draft report of dry cleaning industry safety and was still waiting for these government agencies’ assessment of the SEHSC safety findings.
To track the health and environmental agencies’ response to the SEHSC final risk report keep up with news on these Web sites:
The OEHHA Web site
The United States Department of Health and Human Services
The United States Environmental Protection Agency
By: Stephanie Riesenman for Body1
The search for a non-toxic and environmentally-friendly dry cleaning method will continue now that Green Earth, a solvent that has been positioned as a safer alternative to the industry standard, was shown to cause cancer in rats during a two-year study.
Green Earth cleaning is a process that employs a silicone-based solvent called D-5. The solvent is an odorless and colorless liquid that dry cleaners say leaves clothes smelling less like chemicals than other solutions. D-5 works by carrying detergent to clothes and then rinses away suspended dirt and oils that become trapped by the detergent. Green Earth has been gaining popularity with dry cleaners in California since the state government mandated a phase-out of perchloroethylene, or PERC, a chemical that has been used by a vast majority of the dry cleaning industry since the end of World War II.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies PERC as a hazardous air pollutant. Decades of research is available on the chemical, and has shown, that at doses much higher than what is used to dry clean clothes today, PERC may affect the central nervous system and cause damage to the kidneys, liver and reproductive system after long periods of exposure. It is highly regulated, particularly in New York state, where the Department of Environmental Protection and the State Department of Health mandate specific procedures for handling and disposing of PERC. State laws requiring the use of new equipment have lowered the risk to employees and the public.
The EPA does not regulate Green Earth because it is a newer chemical and there is not enough evidence of toxicity to set restrictions on its use. Currently, new chemicals can be introduced to the market without being reviewed by the EPA. The exceptions are food, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and a handful of other industries. It is only when someone proves a chemical is not safe that the EPA may intervene to restrict its use.
In the case of Green Earth, the government asked Dow Corning (creator of the solvent) to study the chemical’s safety due to questions about the toxicity of other silicone products. A two-year study was commissioned, which was a combined chronic/carcinogenicity study using rats that were exposed to D-5 via inhalation at the highest possible concentration of the chemical. The data revealed an increased risk of uterine cancer in female rats that were exposed to the Green Earth silicone.
“A lot of cleaners were enamored with the idea [of Green Earth] because it got the media and the environmentalists off their backs and they didn’t have to worry about legislation or regulation of its use,” said Nora Nealis, executive director of the National Cleaners Association, in an interview conducted last year.
“If we had outlawed PERC and made everybody buy Green Earth solvent would we be solving any problems or creating problems,” Nealis asked. “Lack of data doesn’t mean lack of risk.”
|The Dry Cleaning Process|
Drycleaners treat spots by hand before placing clothes in large machines
Liquid solvents and detergents are added to the machines. The machines then agitate clothes to remove dirt, oil, and stains
Once clean, the clothes are dried in the same machine or transferred to a separate dryer, then pressed and shaped
Used solvent is distilled so it can be purified. Distillation separates the solvent from waste residues so the solvent can be reused
After the purification process, filters which contain the solvent in very small amounts, and certain solvent residues must be managed and disposed of as hazardous waste
The Silicones Environmental, Health and Safety Council, an industry trade group that represents the manufactures of D-5, claims that there are more than 30 studies, including the most recent cancer study on rats, that support the safety of D-5 in humans. In a statement released on Jan. 11, the SEHSC reported that they have a voluntary research program in place to ensure D-5 and other silicones are used safely, and that the agency will continue to cooperate with the United States EPA and other federal and state agencies to provide them with safety information on their products.
As for the recently announced study, the manufacturer and the SEHSC claim that the cancer risk observed in rats is specific to rodents and has no relevance to human health. Marketing materials for Green Earth continue to describe the chemical as meeting EPA standards, which may be misleading since there are no standards to violate. The EPA’s authority does not cover marketing claims.
In the meantime, California environmental regulators are suspending incentives that were established to encourage cleaners to adopt Green Earth and switch from PERC. The goal of the program was to transition dry cleaners away from harmful chemicals towards safer alternatives.
Did you Know?
Despite its name, drycleaning is not totally dry. It involves the use of liquid chemicals called solvents that remove most stains from a variety of fabrics. Most drycleaners use perc as their primary solvent. Because the clothes are cleaned in a liquid solution that is mostly perc or some other solvent, with very little water if any, the term "drycleaning" is used to describe the process.