TEA's Dry Cleaning Scorecard consists of green, yellow, and red symbols to clearly indicate which dry cleaning chemicals are the safest and which have the greatest risk of toxic impacts.
Leading research from the Toxic Use Reduction Institute
We owe all of the credit to the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) out of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. TURI has done extensive research on the chemicals used in the dry cleaning industry. In 2012, they conducted an assessment of seven common alternatives to perc: n-propyl bromide, siloxane, hydrocarbons, acetal, propylene glycol ethers, carbon dioxide, and professional wet cleaning.
Their goal was to find technically viable and environmentally preferred methods for professional garment cleaning that could lead to the reduction or complete elimination of perchloroethylene (perc) as a dry cleaning solvent. The result of their research was a 56-page technical report and a 4-page factsheet that neatly summarized each alternative based on health, environment, economic, regulatory and technical cleaning criteria.
Scorecard tailored to Canadian context
With the help of Clean Production Action's Consulting Co-Director Beverley Thorpe and technical advice from TURI staff, the Toronto Environmental Alliance developed a simplified version of TURI's factsheet in the form of a scorecard focused solely on key health and environment criteria.
Chemical regulations in the U.S. and Canada regarding perc are quite similar but we researched the relevant regulations at all levels of government because Environment Canada, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Toronto Public Health and Toronto Water all have legislation related to perc and dry cleaning establishments in Canada.
Our Scorecard leaves out one of the seven alternatives to perc: liquid carbon dioxide. Based on information from dry cleaning chemical suppliers, there is little to no market in Toronto for this alternative. It is the most expensive process, which presents a significant barrier to investment for local dry cleaners.
In order to develop the assessment for the smog and air pollution category, we identified Perchloroethylene as the only designated air toxics substance, which we marked as red for 'Toxic Impact'. Four alternatives are recognized as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which contribute to the formation of smog, thus we marked them as yellow for 'Take Caution'. Two alternatives are not identified as regulated air toxics substances nor VOCs, which is why they were marked as green for 'Green & Safe'.
There's more to learn from TURI
TURI took their research to heart and began offering small business training programs, grants and other incentives to help dry cleaners transition from perc to wet cleaning. Learn more about their programs and resources for dry cleaners at:
TURI was established by the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA, 1989) with the mandate to collaborate with businesses, community organizations and government agencies to reduce the use of toxic chemicals, protect public health and the environment, and increase competitiveness of Massachusetts businesses.
Ontario has a similar regulation called the Toxics Reduction Act (TRA, 2009) but there is no established institute under the law to assist companies with their pollution prevention efforts.