Did you know Canada’s most widespread dry cleaning chemical is linked to lymphoma and is toxic to the nervous system? PERC (short for perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene) pollutes the environment and harms human health, but when it comes to regulating the substance, Canada is falling behind.


In 2007, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health recommended federal action to phase out the carcinogenic chemical. But Environment Canada has yet to act to ban PERC. Federal regulations are meant to control emissions, but even with the most efficient equipment, dry cleaning still releases PERC into the environment.


On the municipal level, only the City of Toronto tracks usage and emissions of PERC and other toxic dry cleaning chemicals through its ChemTRAC program. The data shows that 42 per cent of PERC (or 13 tonnes) used by drycleaners in Toronto was released into outdoor air in 2013.


PERC released into the air puts dry cleaning workers and nearby residents at risks. So what are we going to do about it?


Today, Environmental Defence issued the report Removing the Stain, outlining the success stories and best practices from the US for phasing out PERC.


The Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) has also been conducting outreach to businesses and customers in the Toronto area, to raise awareness of detergent-based wet cleaning, and to promote the switch to this safe alternative.


Together, Environmental Defence and TEA have also created a dry cleaning wallet card for customers to use to identify environmentally-friendly options. The card is available for download and both groups will be distributing the cards.


While Canada has yet to update regulations to ban PERC, U.S. jurisdictions have been taking action on the federal and state level to phase out the chemical and to promote wet cleaning. This method is the safest, most environmentally friendly alternative to dry cleaning. It cleans “dry clean-only” clothing so thoroughly that customer satisfaction is on par with PERC. Wet cleaning involves cost-effective inorganic detergents in computer-controlled washers. It is also less costly than PERC per pound of clothes cleaned.


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


Various U.S. jurisdictions have also initiated training and mentorship programs and equipment replacement grants to phase out PERC in dry cleaning. Clearly, it’s time for Canada to act.


Cities and provinces can play their part in reducing PERC pollution, but ultimately what’s needed most are tougher regulations at the federal level to eliminate PERC and support the switch to wet cleaning.


Read about what you can do to reduce exposure and be part of the effort to push PERC out of cleaning. Check out our report, and consider helping TEA gather data if you live in the Greater Toronto Area. And check out our wallet card for handy dry cleaning info on the go.