January 18, 2017: Your dry cleaned clothes may be unsuspectingly exposing you to PERC, a toxic chemical, known to have high probability of being carcinogen, reveals “Cleaning Clothes: but what about environment and health” , a report released by Toxics Link today. In the first of its kind of study in India done by this environmental group, garments were tested for PERC after dry cleaning and 75% of them were found to contain the harmful chemical residue. PERC or Perchloroethylene (also known Tetrachloroethylene) is a chemical used in the process of dry cleaning and is recognized globally as toxic to the human health and the environment.
Under the study 20 garments, including silk and woolen popularly sent to dry cleaners by Indian households, were dry cleaned in PERC and sent to accredited lab for testing PERC. 15 of them were detected with varying concentration of PERC residue, ranging from 1.3 mg/kg to 101 mg/kg. The study surveyed dry cleaning facilities across Delhi and Kolkata and found that PERC is a popular and commonly used dry cleaning solvent.
The main health effects that are associated with PERC are carcinogenicity and toxic effects on the central nervous system, kidney, liver, and reproduction and development. Studies of PERC’s effects on humans and animals have demonstrated that PERC is readily absorbed by inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Priti Mahesh, Chief Programme Coordinator, Toxics Link, warns that ‘the smell that you get when you open the dry cleaned cloth packet might be the chemical residue and you may be unknowingly inhaling it and exposing yourself to poison’. Earlier reports have proven that high levels of PERC exposure in enclosed spaces, even for short periods of time, can cause respiratory failure and in extreme case, even death.
The study also found that the workers in the dry cleaning units in these two cities might be at a severe risk. Long working hours, combined with lack of awareness and use of personal protective gears, means that the workers might be inhaling PERC everyday. Studies have shown that long term exposure to PERC can result in neurological effect as well as damage to the liver and kidneys.
The study also raised serious concern on disposal of PERC. Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2016 lists the permissible concentration limit of PERC in wastewater as 0.7 mg/l. According to the Rules, if the concentration of waste is equal or more than this permissible limit, it should be considered toxic and must be disposed of as per the disposal procedure prescribed in the rules, i.e. give it to an authorised Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF). The dry-cleaners in both the cities appeared to be unaware of this rule, and therefore, no standard guidelines or procedures are being followed for the disposal of PERC. Most units shared that they dispose off PERC waste in dustbins or drains or bury it underground.
‘There are several restrictions on its usage and disposal in many countries across globe but in India there are no norms’, said Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link. He added that, ‘ chemical safety needs to be taken much more seriously in the country’.
Facts at a glance:
- 15 out of 20 dry cleaned garment samples from were detected with PERC concentration
- The highest concentration found was 101mg /kg.
- Short term inhalation of tetrachloroethylene at very high level scan can lead to irritation of the nose and throat and depression of the central nervous system with symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, giddiness, headache, nausea, loss of coordination, confusion and unconsciousness.
- 79 dry cleaning facilities across the metro cities of Delhi and Kolkata were surveyed during the study.
- None of the PERC facilities were aware if the wastewater was being treated before being disposed of. All the dry cleaning facilities dispose of the PERC waste in dustbins or drains, or bury it underground.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined the high probability of PERC being a carcinogen.
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified the chemical as an environment pollutant
About Toxics Link (www.toxicslink.org) Toxics Link is an environmental research and advocacy organization set up in 1996 by The Just Environment Charitable Trust. It lays a special emphasis on reaching out to numerous grassroots groups; community based organizations and the public at large through its empirical study-based information on Environmental issues. Toxics Link works closely with all other stakeholders who are working on similar issues and has played a seminal role in facilitating the development of several common platforms for them at the national, regional as well as international levels.