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EPA Regulates Dry Cleaners in First Air Toxics Rule Under New Clean Air Act

[EPA press release - September 14, 1993]

In the first air toxics rule under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, EPA today announced that, to protect public health, it will reduce air emissions of the most widely used solvent in dry cleaning nationwide.

The solvent, perchloroethylene (PCE or "perc"), is on the list of 189 toxic air pollutants that Congress said EPA must regulated under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act.

"This regulation reflects the Clinton Administration's commitment to protecting public health from toxic air pollutants while minimizing the economic impact on America's small businesses," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. "EPA has worked closely with major dry cleaning industry representatives to minimize the cost of this rule to neighborhood 'mom and pop' cleaners. We estimate that consumer dry cleaning prices will go up less than one percent as a result of this action."

The rule will dramatically reduce emissions of PCE from approximately 25,000 dry cleaners throughout the country. The rule will cut the total amount of PCE emissions from uncontrolled dry cleaning machines by up to 80 percent.

The rule will require, in effect, pollution control equipment called refrigerated condensers on all uncontrolled dry cleaning machines. However, cleaners that already have equipment called carbon absorbers will not be required to switch to condensers.

An EPA economic analysis has shown that some of the smallest dry cleaners could suffer adverse economic effects from this rule. Therefore, to limit the economic impact on small businesses, EPA is not requiring condensers for dry cleaners emitting small amounts of PCE. This exemption will apply to businesses that use less than EPA-specified amounts of PCE. These cutoffs correspond roughly to businesses with annual receipts of less than $75,000 annually. However, these exempted businesses will still be required to perform basic leak detection and repair activities to limit PCE emissions.

The rule affects only PCE emissions into the atmosphere during the dry cleaning process itself and does not affect the clean clothes received by customers.

Industrial and commercial cleaners, both new facilities and those already existing, are affected by today's regulation. Industrial dry cleaners are generally large plants supplying rental uniforms to business and institutional customers; commercial cleaners, the most common type, include small, independently-operated or franchise shops.

Dry cleaning operators will be required to ensure that their control equipment is operating properly by performing routine monitoring and recordkeeping. They must also use pollution prevention procedures to prevent liquid and vapor leaks of PCE. These pollution prevention procedures include the installation of "dry-to-dry" machines when existing equipment is replaced and new equipment added. Dry-to-dry machines combine washing and drying in the same machine, thus resulting in lower emissions than "transfer" machines, which consist of separate washers and dryers. To promote the goal of pollution prevention at its source, the rule bans new transfer machines.

To comply with today's requirements, a typical dry cleaner is facing one-time capital costs of $6,300 and yearly operating and maintenance costs of $1,000. EPA estimates that the price of dry cleaning to the average consumer will go up less than one percent.

Today's rule is the first step in a multi-stage EPA strategy to reduce dry cleaner emissions of PCE to the environment. EPA plans a public meeting and other follow-up efforts to address indoor air pollution in private residences next to cleaners, groundwater contamination resulting from disposal of dry cleaner wastewater in sewers and solid waste byproducts.

The final rule will appear soon in the Federal Register.