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The Dirt on Dry Cleaners: Federal Perc Laws

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 15, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With about 80% of dry cleaners across the country still using perchloroethylene, the 2020 residential phase out mandated under federal perc laws is sure to send many owners into a financial tizzy.

Required to find alternative solvents, dry cleaning businesses will either need to retrofit or purchase all new equipment, costing them upwards of $100,000.

But as some recent court cases have suggested, such a high cost may ultimately be worth it.

Because of its nature as toxic air pollutant and potential carcinogen, the Wall Street Journal reports that the federal perc laws enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency require all dry cleaning businesses located in residential buildings be stop using the chemical by 2020, though California, Illinois, and New Jersey have broader bans.

Even though you ultimately have another 9 years to accomplish this goal and raise the money to do so, it might not be a bad idea to switch over sooner rather than later.

A number of recent court rulings have exposed dry cleaners to incredible legal liability by refusing to hold equipment manufacturers responsible for environmental contamination, leaving owners as the only viable defendants.

In two such cases, the 9th Circuit found (1) that a dry cleaner could not sue a washer manufacturer for contribution to an environmental cleanup effort necessitated by its use of perc, and (2) that manufacturers are not liable for environmental contamination caused by equipment designs and improper instructions.

Complying with federal perc laws prior to 2020 may lessen the chance of environmental contamination, ultimately relieving a dry cleaner of a potentially large clean-up effort for which it is solely responsible.

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