The Erin Brockovich of dry cleaning


Max Hoffman’s mission to eradicate PERC in the dry cleaning industry

Despite being banned in France and in multiple states across the US, perchlorethylene, known as ‘PERC’, is still used at most dry cleaners across New Zealand.

In the European countries where PERC is still used, there are stringent regulations controlling its use. Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries recognise its toxicity and have strict regulations and sector agreements that were adopted 15 to 25 years ago, specifically focusing on the environment, with Belgium currently still undertaking an evaluation. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has banned all PERC machines from use in residential buildings and has issued a strong recommendation to ban PERC from being used in its entirety. 

Unfortunately, New Zealand is still behind the rest, with no ban and only minimal regulation. 

What is PERC, anyway? 

PERC is a liquid solvent used by drycleaners to dissolve stains on garments.

According to the US EPA, there are dozens of acute and non-acute effects that can happen with long term exposure to PERC, including: 

Several types of cancer, specifically bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma – there is also limited evidence to suggest associations with oesophageal, kidney, cervical and breast cancer

Menstrual disorders, altered sperm structure and reduced fertility

Neurological effects, including headaches, impairments in cognitive and motor function, as well as ‘colour vision decrements’.

Even soil contaminated by PERC has been shown to have severely negative flow-on effects on nearby water sources and cause harm. 

New Zealand’s own Worksafe even notes that PERC is a hazardous substance. On Worksafe’s industry guidance page for dry cleaning, it states, “PERC is both toxic and ecotoxic and can cause both immediate and chronic effects from over-exposure. Dry cleaners must avoid inhaling solvent vapour, contact with the skin and eyes, or ingesting the solvent”.

The man leading the charge against PERC in New Zealand is Eastern Drycleaners owner and manager, Max Hoffman. 

If not handled carefully it can cause nose bleeds to headaches to inflamed skin disorders. Max has seen first hand for himself what PERC does to workers and customers in the industry – and he doesn’t hold a bar of it. 

“Employees at dry cleaners are often not told by the owners that PERC can be dangerous – and often neither are the customers.

“My experience is that owners don’t like to talk about how toxic PERC is because it is so expensive for them to get rid of the old PERC machines and buy an all new hydrocarbon machine. They are more specialised, like a high-performance sports car, so on top of the initial cost to purchase, they are much more costly to run and repair. 

“PERC machines are like old diesel engines; they just go forever so dry cleaners are not motivated to throw them out. And don’t get me wrong, I love old diesel engines – I just don’t want to wash my clothes in one,” Max says. 

For Eastern Drycleaners, though, there is no choice about it. 

“If you Google ‘the dangers of using PERC’, you’ll see I’m not some eco-warrior going on and on. The stuff is just awful.” 

As soon as Eastern Drycleaners learned about the dangers of PERC, they completely transitioned away from the toxic solvent. 

They got rid of all of the old PERC machines and upgraded their factory to be fitted out with the latest 6th Generation German Bowe Black Forest M30 dry cleaning machines that are specially designed to run on hydrocarbons and modified alcohol cleaning solutions. 

“In my opinion any drycleaner who uses PERC anywhere in their factory at all and claims to be environmentally responsible is misleading their customers. I also believe that any drycleaners using PERC should inform their customers of that and the possible risks involved in the use of PERC.”  

In addition to hydrocarbon, Eastern Drycleaners now also offers solvent free dry cleaning as well, which uses highly specialised soaps. Both methods have advantages. 

“Our aim at Eastern Drycleaners is to achieve the optimum result while being as gentle on the fabric as possible.

“The cleaning processes we use are considered internationally to be the gold standard of dry cleaning. Not only do they clean better, they are much gentler on fabrics, they reduce colour fading, they leave clothes with a better finish, they smell fantastic – and they are safe for dry cleaning employees, the customers and the environment,” Max says.  

Keep New Zealand Beautiful chairwoman, Alexandra Davids says, “In 2019 Eastern Drycleaners was one of three businesses in the entire nation to be nominated for Most Sustainable Business. 

“We acknowledge businesses who go above and beyond what the law requires to do their part to Keep New Zealand Beautiful. I’ve done my own research and this PERC stuff is nasty. Good on Eastern for bringing this to our attention because New Zealanders have the right to be informed.”

By Claire Wright

Disclaimer: The views expressed by Max Hoffman as to the use of PERC are his personal opinions and have not be validated by Canterbury Today.

Author: jarred

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