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Dry Cleaners/ Perchloroethylene

dry cleaning

What is Perchloroethylene?
Perchloroethylene, also know as PERC or Tetrachloroethylene, is a man-made chemical used mainly in dry cleaning, fabric spot removers, adhesives, metal degreasing and manufacturing. It is a non-flammable, colorless liquid at room temperature that easily evaporates into the air. PERC has an odor that many people associate with dry cleaning.

En Español

How can PERC affect my health?
PERC is a hazardous chemical. The potential for health effects depends on how much and for how long you are exposed.

The highest exposures occur among workers in businesses that regularly use or manufacture PERC, such as dry cleaners. When concentrations in the air are very high—particularly in closed, poorly ventilated areas—a single exposure to PERC
can cause:
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • sleepiness
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • difficulty in speaking and walking
  • unconsciousness, and death
PERC may also irritate the skin, lung, eyes and mucous membranes. People who are exposed to high levels for many years are at risk for damage to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys, certain cancers and reproductive effects.

It is unclear what effects may occur from long-term, low levels of exposure to PERC. People who live in homes and businesses that share a building with dry cleaners that still use PERC may be exposed to low levels of PERC.  Studies suggest that small effects on the central nervous system may occur at low levels of PERC.

How might I be exposed to PERC?
PERC is present in the air we breathe because of its widespread use. Higher levels of PERC may be found in the air near businesses that use PERC such as dry cleaners or in auto repair shops that do metal degreasing. Elevated air levels of PERC have been found in residential buildings with dry-cleaning shops in New York City.

How can dry cleaning shops prevent PERC vapors?
Dry cleaners that still use PERC must follow federal, state and local regulations, and keep PERC vapors low in their shops and out of neighboring homes and businesses. Employers must also protect workers from PERC exposures. To read more:

► See Best Practices for Dry Cleaning Shops in Residential Areas (PDF)
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I received the results of air testing for PERC. What do the results mean?
To protect the health of people, government agencies have set levels which apply in different situations. In all instances, it is best to keep PERC air levels as low as possible.

For workers, the average level for the entire workday set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must be below 678 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3). A level of 2,034 mg/m3 cannot be exceeded in the workplace at any time. OSHA has resources about Reducing Worker Exposure To Perchloroethylene (Perc) In Dry Cleaning .

In homes, the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) recommends that the average air level not exceed 0.1 mg/m3. This level is protective of people who may be exposed from living near dry cleaners. Levels above 0.1 mg/m3 may indicate that dry cleaning equipment is not operating properly and corrective action is needed.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to PERC?
Currently there is no readily available medical test to determine the amount of PERC in a person's body. When a possible source of PERC is present, the best way to check if a person has recently been exposed to PERC is to measure the amount of PERC in the air of their home or workplace.

Should I or my children see a doctor?
If you believe you or your children are experiencing symptoms which you think might be related to PERC exposure, you should see your health care provider. Tell the doctor when, how, and for how long you think you were exposed to PERC.

    In case of an emergency, call the Poison Control Center at
    (212) POISONS, (212) VENENOS, or (212) 340-4494.
    You can call 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

For more information or to register a complaint call 311

More Resources:

Last Updated: June 21, 2012