The winter holidays are a busy time for many businesses, including retail stores, grocers, liquor stores—and dry cleaners. People pull out special-occasion clothes made of silk, satin or other fabrics that don’t launder well in soap and water. Then there are all those specialty items, from stained tablecloths to ugly holiday sweaters . Few consumers know much about what happens to their goods once they hand them across the dry cleaner’s counter. In fact, dry cleaning isn’t dry at all. Most facilities soak items in a chemical called perchloroethylene or perc for short. Exposure to perc is associated with a variety of adverse human health effects . The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the World Health Organization, has designated perc as a probable human carcinogen . The most direct risk is to dry-cleaning workers, who may inhale perc vapors or spill it on their skin while handling clothes or cleaning equipment. At the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell, we work with small businesses and industries to find ways they can reduce the use of toxic materials and find more benign substitutes. For more than a decade the Toxics Use Reduction Institute has worked […]

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