Comparative Assessment of Wet and Dry Garment Cleaning, Part 1: Environmental and Human Health Assessment
Water-based cleaning of specialty garments is emerging as a potential alternative to dry cleaning. Perchloroethylene, the solvent used in dry cleaning, poses significant human and ecosystem health concerns. This paper is part 1 of a two part series that analyzes the key environmental, human health, performance, economic, and regulatory factors which influence the future of the garment cleaning industry. This paper inventories the environmental releases and wastes associated with the consumption of perchloroethylene in modern dry cleaning machines which ranges from 2.0 to 5.2 kg per 100 kg of clothing cleaned. In addition, water, electricity, and other inputs for both perchloroethylene-based and water-based garment cleaning are compared using data from previous demonstration projects. Toxicological and epidemiological studies provide evidence for the carcinogenicity of perchloroethylene although this classification is controversial. Cancer risks at low levels of exposure associated with modern dry cleaning equipment and good housekeeping practices are unknown and require further investigation. Regardless of these uncertainties, water-based cleaning is preferable to dry cleaning from a human and environmental health perspective.