New report finds widely used toxic dry cleaning chemical impacts air quality and human health

For Immediate Release
November 12, 2015

New report finds widely used toxic dry cleaning chemical impacts air quality and human health

Canada falling behind U.S. on phasing out cancer-causing chemical, putting dry cleaning workers and nearby residents at risk

TORONTO, ON – A new report by Environmental Defence shows that in the absence of federal action, Canadians are still being exposed to the carcinogenic dry cleaning chemical PERC. Canada is falling behind while many U.S. jurisdictions are taking action to phase out the toxic chemical.

“PERC is highly toxic to both human health and the environment, but dry cleaning operations still release it into the air in large quantities,” said Maggie MacDonald, Toxics Program Manager, Environmental Defence. “It’s time for Canada to ban this cancer-causing chemical and support dry cleaning businesses in their switch to safer alternatives.”

PERC (short for perchloroethylene), the most widely used chemical in Canada’s dry cleaning industry, is linked to lymphoma, and is toxic to the nervous system. Around 13 tonnes of the chemical are released into Toronto’s air every year according to the City of Toronto’s ChemTRAC program.

“Back in 2007, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health recommended a complete phase-out of PERC but no federal action has been taken to ban it,” Maggie MacDonald pointed out. “This is especially disappointing given that an effective, non-toxic and sustainable alternative exists with wet cleaning.”

Wet cleaning is the safest, most environmentally-friendly alternative to dry cleaning and quality-wise it’s on par with PERC. The right policy mix is required to make the switch from PERC to wet cleaning, the report finds.

"We know of at least 50 dry cleaning shops in Toronto that still use PERC and have neighbours directly above or beside them," said Heather Marshall, Campaigns Director, Toronto Environmental Alliance. "These shops are prime candidates for wet cleaning because toxic chemicals like PERC can contaminate buildings and pose a public health risk."

Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) has been conducting outreach to businesses and customers to raise awareness about wet cleaning and to promote the switch. Today, Environmental Defence and TEA also released a pocket guide for customers to inform about PERC and environmentally-friendly options.

“Cities and provinces should help reduce PERC pollution through better disclosure to customers, equipment replacement and training programs to help businesses to make the transition,” MacDonald added. “Ultimately we need tougher regulations at the federal level to eliminate PERC and support the switch to wet cleaning.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted a mandatory phase-out of PERC in dry cleaning facilities located in residential buildings by 2020. California ended PERC use in co-located cleaning facilities in 2010 and is phasing out PERC completely by 2023.

Environmental Defence is looking forward to working with the new Federal Government to advance action on this important issue.

About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is Canada's most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.

About TORONTO ENVIRONMENTAL ALLIANCE ( TEA campaigns locally to find solutions to Toronto's urban environmental problems. We advocate on behalf of all Torontonians for a green, healthy and equitable city with economic activity that sustains our environment.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Tim Ehlich, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521, ext. 223; 647-468-3641 (cell); [email protected]

TEA contact: 

Heather Marshall, Campaigns Director, Toronto Environmental Alliance, 416-596-0660, [email protected] 


Learn more about TEA's work on toxics and dry cleaning here.