The Suffolk County Legislature passed a bill Thursday that would require dry cleaners to post signs around their store detailing what chemicals they use to wash clothes, a step advocates said would let customers see which methods are “greener” for the environment.
Under the bill, the Department of Health Services will create a website of “various solvents and processes” used throughout the county and detail their potential dangers. Two signs would be posted in each dry cleaners using a color-coded classification system to show consumers what chemicals were being used.
“This bill empowers consumers and allows them to make more informed decisions, which in the end is good for all of us,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, who sponsored the bill. “While it is common for consumers to read food ingredient lists and nutrition labels and to search out reviews for other products, most are hard pressed to find the time to research details related to myriad dry cleaning solvents, figure out the exact solvent used by their cleaner and then investigate its potential impact on his or her self, family and environment.”
The North Fork’s representative in the legislature, Al Krupski, voted in favor of the bill.
“The industry didn’t have a problem with the notification,” he said. “It’s just to let customers know they have an option.”
The bill focuses specifically on a common chemical used in dry cleaners: perchloroethylene, otherwise known as “perc.”
According to the legislation, perc is a “hazardous chemical considered to be a probable human carcinogen by the federal government.”
“Just as consumers have the right to know what’s in their food and body care products, they should have the right to know what is being used to clean their clothing,” said Beth Fiteni, owner of Green Inside and Out, a consulting firm that seeks to educate the public to find healthier alternatives to common toxins. “This information is useful in educating the public, and even dry cleaning workers, about the available less-harmful alternatives.”
Some dry cleaners have converted away from using perc recently, like Noelle & Dan’s Deluxe Cleaners in Mattituck.
“We just converted to hydrocarbon, which is more organic,” said owner Regina Lee. “It’s not bad for the body. The chemical is much safer.”
An employee at VojVoda’s Dry Cleaner in Riverhead also said they don’t use the chemical in their store.
“If you walk into a dry cleaners that uses perc, you smell it right away,” he said.
But some cleaners say the chemical doesn’t pose a danger.
Jim Pirillo, the manager of Hoppy’s Cleaners in Greenport, said the dry cleaners has used perc for years without any issues. His grandmother ran the store for years and is 96 years old, he said.
“She practically drinks the stuff,” he said.
But what about the new signage the store may have to put up? “It’s one of those deals that you have to deal with,” Mr. Pirillo said.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone now has 30 days to sign the bill into law.
Top caption: Orders awaiting pick up at Deluxe Dry Cleaners in Mattituck. (Credit: Paul Squire)