Governor Quinn Signs Law to Detoxify Dry Cleaners

Press Release

By:  Michael Zalewski Pat Quinn Heather Steans
Date: Aug. 24, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL

Governor Pat Quinn today signed a new law to impose tougher safety measures on the use of perchloroethylene (a solvent commonly known as "perc") by dry cleaners. House Bill 4526 requires dry cleaners to use "best management practices" while using the solvent. The law is backed by the dry cleaning industry, environmentalists and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

"If improperly handled, dry cleaning solvents can seep into our groundwater and skies, and pose a threat to workers," Governor Quinn said. "This new law will help protect our drinking water and we salute the dry cleaning industry -- and especially the Korean American Drycleaners Association - for partnering with environmental advocates to get this done."

Sponsored by Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Summit) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), this legislation includes improved control and containment systems, better training, and more comprehensive reporting. The law will require all new dry cleaning machines, beginning in 2013, to have "primary and secondary" control systems to reduce the concentration of perc, and to have sealed containment structures to contain leaks or spills by 2014.

"This legislation will significantly reduce future contamination of wells used for drinking water through improved handling and disposal of perchloroethylene through practices that are reasonable and affordable to the thousands of drycleaners across Illinois, many of which are small, family-run businesses," said John Kim, Interim Director of the Illinois EPA.

"We've known about the dangers of perc for years, so, as an elected official, an Illinois resident and a parent, I am glad we could produce an agreement among small business owners, the Illinois EPA and the General Assembly to protect Illinoisans from this potentially harmful chemical," said Rep. Zalewski, who helped lead the negotiations.

Under the new law, each dry cleaning facility will be required to have at least one person trained in "best management practices" to be present when operating dry cleaning machines. The training must be approved by the Illinois Drycleaner Environmental Response Trust Fund Council. Proof of training must be available at the dry cleaning facility and a refresher course must be taken every four years.

"Protecting the purity of our state's drinking water is a serious duty," said Sen. Steans, Vice-Chair of the Illinois Senate Environment Committee. "This law will modernize the dry cleaning industry and prevent perchloroethylene from reaching our faucets."

Perc - used for dry cleaning since the 1930s - was the first chemical to be classified as a carcinogen by a federal agency. Wellwater tainted by perc in the Village of Crestwood put the issue front-and-center in 2009. Of the 47 public health warnings issued by the Illinois EPA and Department of Public Health, 36 were due to detection of perchloroethylene.

"This bill is an example of what can happen when people in the dry cleaning industry, environmental advocates and concerned elected officials come together with a common solution," said Sung Kang, Chairman of the National Drycleaners Institute and past-President of the Korean American Drycleaners Association. "This new law provides protections to both the environment and the industry."

The new law requires more reporting and transparency. Dry cleaning license renewals must include certification that all hazardous waste is being stored and transported lawfully. Manufacturers of perchloroethylene and other solvents sold in Illinois will be required to provide the Illinois EPA with information so that the Agency can determine if such chemicals are posing a health risk to the environment.

"We were able to bring all stakeholders to the table and arrive at a triple win for Illinois: protecting public health, preserving the environment and bringing economic stability to the dry cleaning industry," said Melville Nickerson, Staff Attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who led negotiations on behalf of environmental groups.

"This bill will help prevent the hazardous dry cleaning chemical perc from contaminating groundwater, while also helping vet safety of new dry cleaning chemicals that may come along to replace perc," said Max Muller, Program Director at Environment Illinois. "We applaud Governor Quinn, the Illinois EPA staff, and the dry cleaning industry for their leadership on this."

There are 994 licensed dry cleaning facilities in Illinois. Last year, about 45,000 gallons of perchloroethylene were purchased in Illinois. The Illinois Drycleaner Environmental Response Trust Fund Council has classified only three dry cleaning solvents as being "green": carbon dioxide, Propylene Glycol ("Solv-Air") and "Green Earth."

Proponents include the Illinois EPA, Korean American Drycleaners Association, National Drycleaners Institute, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Illinois Environmental Council, Environment Illinois, Sierra Club and others. The law is effective immediately.