The next time you retrieve that suit from the dry cleaner's, consider that you may be picking up more than you dropped off. Clinging to most freshly dry-cleaned clothing are traces of perchloroethylene, a chlorine- based compound used by 90 percent of all dry cleaners. Listed by the EPA as a hazardous air pollutant and a "probable human carcinogen," perc has also been linked to neurological damage and reproductive disorders.
The largest consumers of perc, dry cleaners use an estimated 250 million pounds of the compound annually. While exposure to contaminated garments poses minimal health risks, a more serious threat from perc exists in our air, food, and water. Both the production and incineration fo this organochlorine create hundreds of toxic byproducts, and flushing perc into the sewer system contaminates groundwater supplies. Environmentalists are clamoring for a phase-out of this dirty cleaning solvent.