Dry cleaning chemicals can cause serious health issues.
Photo credit: Tata & Howard

Longtime exposure to high levels of Perchloroethylene, a chemical most commonly used in dry cleaning, can cause problems with the nervous system, liver and kidneys, as well as cancer.

Photo credit: Tata & Howard

New Yorkers who live on the first or second floor of an apartment building that is above or next door to a dry cleaning operation, may be exposed to harmful chemicals, warns the NYC Health Department. Residents who are concerned about being potentially exposed to dry cleaning solvents can schedule free indoor air tests for their apartments. 

Perchloroethylene (PERC) is the most common solvent used in cleaning and can cause health issues, the longer you are exposed to it. The chemical is a non-flammable, colorless liquid with a smell commonly associated with dry cleaning. Because of its widespread use, PERC is generally present at very low levels in the air. Yet higher levels may be found near businesses that use it, such as dry cleaners or auto repair shops. Some New York City residential buildings that share space with dry-cleaning shops also often present higher levels, according to the health department.

When there is a lot of PERC in the air, especially in closed areas with little air movement, one-time exposure can cause dizziness, headache, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, difficulty speaking and walking, as well as irritation to skin, lungs, eyes, nose and throat, the health department warns. People who are exposed to high levels of PERC for many years are at risk for problems with the nervous system, liver and kidneys, as well as certain cancers.

The health department encourages concerned New Yorkers to call 311 to learn how PERC can affect their health and to schedule a free indoor air test. People who believe to experience symptoms possibly related to PERC exposure should see their health care provider, or, in case of an emergency, call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS, 212-VENENOS or (212) 340-4494.

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Andrea Leonhardt

“Made in Germany,” Andrea Leonhardt is the managing editor for BK Reader. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, with minors in American studies and education, and a master’s...

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