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[기타] Dry cleaners target of mass sweep
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Dry cleaners target of mass sweep

Nearly half of B.C. businesses allegedly found to be mishandling toxic chemicals

By Mike Hager, Vancouver Sun, The Canadian Press October 30, 2013 
     
     
A federal government sweep of 48 B.C. dry cleaning businesses found that almost half were allegedly mishandling a toxic chemical that has been linked to leukemia, kidney and liver cancers as well as depression of the central nervous system.

Last summer, Environment Canada enforcement officers found 21 businesses across B.C.'s South Coast didn't have a "secondary containment system" to prevent the spillage of the solvent PERC or the sludgy residue it produces, according to a search warrant from the ministry.

PERC - a clear, colourless liquid with an ether-like odour that's also known as perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene - is used in dry cleaning machines to remove stubborn stains and grease without wrinkling fabric.

Studies have shown that dry cleaning workers exposed to PERC were more likely to develop esophageal and cervical cancers as well as irritated and burnt skin and forgetfulness, according to the Carex Canada carcinogen surveillance program, whose team of researchers hails from University of B.C., Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria.

So far, one business, North Vancouver's Lester's Dry Cleaning, is facing two Environmental Protection Act charges from the sweep, while Environment Canada confirmed Tuesday that the alleged supplier of the PERC in question is still under investigation.

Long used by dry cleaners, PERC was banned in California six years ago and is facing similar pressure in other jurisdictions.

A decade ago, new federal regulations required dry cleaners to reduce their use of the chemical by 70 per cent within two years from 1994's nationwide levels of 5,500 tonnes.

Most still use PERC in B.C., but upgrading to newer machines has meant that the proper storage and disposal of the toxic compound is no longer an industry-wide problem, according to B.C. Fabricare Association President Frank

Wagner, whose organization represents about 50 out of roughly 200 dry cleaning businesses in the province. Wagner estimated that about 20 per cent of B.C.'s dry cleaners are "basically refusing to be environmentally responsible" by using older equipment, which leads to persistent mishandling of PERC.

"I wouldn't necessarily say the solvent itself is a problem; it is a problem if it is not handled correctly," Wagner said.

"As in any industry or business, you can choose to work with old machines or you can choose to work with newer technology - you're able to buy the machines today that are absolutely complying with the regulations in place and are safe."

He said he would like it to be mandatory for all dry cleaners to be educated on the dangers of various chemicals used, as well as all solvents to be tracked by the authorities.

Environment Canada regulates dry cleaners and requires they send in annual reports detailing how much PERC they have used and how they have disposed of it.

No one from the provincial or federal environment ministries was available for comment Tuesday by press time.

Wagner said another part of the problem lies with global garment industry, which has only officially approved the use PERC as a cleaning solvent (as evidenced by the encircled 'p' found on many clothing labels).

Alan Avery, the manager of Sumas Environmental Services' B.C. operations, said PERC is a dense liquid that can sink through groundwater onto bedrock if disposed improperly. "That's another material that really just has to go for incineration," Avery said.

More online Go to vancouversun.com to see a list of all 21 dry cleaning businesses Environment Canada allegedly found to have open containers of PERC on their premises.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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