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January 13, 2009

How to know if your Green Drycleaner is really non-toxic.

Green Clean Good. Greenwashing Bad. New York Times on “non-toxic” Drycleaners. Excerpt:

However strong the smell, though, he wanted the antidote to be gentle on the planet. Mr. Kasserman, 32, an actor and producer who lives in New York, chose Green Apple Cleaners, which advertises “nontoxic” methods that it says will not leave harmful residues in garments or the environment.

He had no shortage of businesses to choose from. In New York and around the country, dry-cleaning stores have increasingly sprouted signs reading “organic” or “green,” as environmentally conscious consumers look for alternatives to traditional dry cleaning and its use of the solvent perchloroethylene. Prolonged contact with that solvent, known as PCE or perc, has been linked in some studies to cancer and neurological troubles like vision problems, and its use is strictly regulated.

But marketing claims for the alternatives are not regulated at all. So customers like Mr. Wasserman, who said he was not sure just what methods Green Apple used, are left to hope for the best. And sometimes the cleaning methods advertised as environmentally sound are anything but.

Government and environmental watchdogs say many cleaners are turning to methods that are only slightly less toxic than perc. The National Cleaners Association, a trade group, says some businesses are using the term “organic” in a blatantly misleading way — not in the sense of a chemical-free peach, but in the chemistry-class sense of containing carbon, the element found in all organic compounds, including perc.

Under that standard, noted Alan Spielvogel, technical director of the cleaners’ association, “I could clean garments with nuclear waste and I could call myself organic.”

…go to NY Times for the rest of the story, and what to look for.

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