TRENTON–The Department of Environmental Protection is offering dry cleaners a first-in-the-nation grant program to help them protect the air by replacing dry cleaning machines that use harmful chemicals with new, environmentally friendly models.
The DEP has targeted machines that use the chemical perchlolroethylene (PCE) in the dry cleaning process for replacement or upgrades to dramatically reduce the amount of the toxic chemical emitted into the air. This effort may reduce emissions of this pollutant by as much as 450 tons each year.
“This is another step forward in improving air quality in New Jersey,” said Commissioner Bob Martin. “In this case, we are reducing toxic emissions while also easing the burden on small business owners who are being asked to make sacrifices for the public good.”
The DEP has established a $5 million fund for the cleanup program. The DEP received the money in a settlement of a lawsuit filed against three coal-fired Midwestern power companies that create air pollution that blows toward New Jersey.
There are about 1,700 PCE-using, dry cleaning machines in New Jersey. Priorities for the grant money are dry cleaners located in residential settings, such as apartment buildings or mixed commercial and residential strip malls, and those located within 50 feet of day care centers.
“This program is an innovative example of exactly what Commissioner Martin is working to accomplish,” said Wolf Skacel, Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement. “It protects New Jersey’s economy by allowing small businesses to grow while protecting public health and the environment by reducing toxic emissions.”
It costs $45,000 to $60,000 to replace a dry cleaning system, which is an industrial-grade washer that uses chemicals. The average grant is expected to be about $25,000, with an additional $15,000 available for dry cleaners that opt for green technology known as wet cleaning. The DEP already has received 26 applications for grants and has approved 23 of them.
Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene, is one of the more prevalent air pollutants in the state, especially in urban areas. Vapors that escape from poorly maintained or faulty dry cleaning machines can seep through walls and into adjacent apartments or businesses. PCE is also one of the more difficult contaminants to deal with if it gets into water through spills or leaks because it sinks to the bottom of water supplies.
In 2005, the DEP proposed rules to regulate and eventually eliminate the use of PCE in the dry cleaning industry, but public comments showed it would be a financial burden on small businesses to quickly mandate retrofitting their equipment.
A proposed state rule will ban dry cleaning machines that use PCE from residential or day care settings by 2014. A federal rule would outlaw those machines in residential and day care settings by 2020. California has approved a ban on the use of PCE from dry cleaning and water-repelling operations by 2023.
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