DEP Grant Program For Dry Cleaners Pull Harmful Pollutants From The State’s Air

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TRENTON–A first-in-the-nation grant program targeting air pollution caused by dry cleaning has been an initial success in New Jersey, with nearly 300 applications received statewide to finance new and upgraded dry cleaning equipment, and with thousands of pounds of pollutants already removed from the air, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced Wednesday.

“Improving air quality in New Jersey is a priority issue for Gov. Christie and the DEP,” said Martin. “This program reduces toxic emissions, benefiting the public health and welfare. But, at the same time, it also has eased the burden on small business owners who are making sacrifices for the public good.”

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The DEP grant program finances replacement of dry cleaning machines that use harmful chemicals with new, environmentally friendly models. In particular, it targets machines that use the chemical perchlolroethylene (PCE) in the dry cleaning process for replacement or upgrades, with a goal of reducing the amount of the toxic chemical emitted into the air by as much as 450 tons a year.

In the seven months since the program was launched, 285 applications from dry cleaning businesses have been received, and 86 applications have been processed and approved, financed by $2.4 million from settlements of clean air lawsuits.

The DEP last year established a $5 million fund for the cleanup program. The Department 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. It is part of a continuing effort by the Christie Administration and DEP to deal with out-of-state air pollution that affects New Jersey residents.

There are 1,600 dry cleaning facilities operating in New Jersey, and 1,100 utilize PCE as a dry cleaning solvent. Priorities for the grant money are dry cleaning businesses 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.

So far, the DEP has approved removal of 87 older dry cleaning machines from service, with 37 grant contracts already awarded. 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 about $25,000, with an additional $15,000 available for dry cleaning companies that opt for green technology known as wet cleaning.

Many dry cleaners are opting to include the use of professional wet cleaning systems, using soap and water, for garments that do not need to go through solvent dry cleaning, thus limiting the use of PCE and reducing potential emissions of air toxics to the environment.

The dry cleaning industry has been very receptive to the grant offers, said Wolf Skacel, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement.

“This innovative effort is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Skacel. “It protects the public health and the environment by reducing toxic emissions, but does not penalize small businesses that are trying to survive during these tough economic times.”

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.

More information on the grant program, including rules and eligibility, can be found at www.nj.gov/dep/enforcement/air.html or www.nj.gov/dep/enforcement/drycleanergrant.html


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