Rx for Readers: Dry-cleaning dangers
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
What effect can chemicals have on residents living nearby?
I am a retired physician. I have been told and read articles to the effect that
walls of apartments built above dry cleaning stores are in danger of absorbing
perchlorethylene, a grease solvent used in dry cleaning, which raises the risk
of cancer, miscarriages and Parkinson’s disease, among other problems. The
chemical is found in greater amounts in the area around dry cleaners and can
affect the surrounding neighborhood.
Should one refrain from buying or
renting an apartment in an apartment building that houses a dry cleaning store?
Does Israel have any rules which forbid dry cleaning stores from being in
In addition, what should people do when they get their suits
and dresses, quilts and sweaters back from the cleaners? Should they air them
out before bringing them into the house? Should the items be in the car when
picking up children from school or when there is food in the car?
Environmental health expert Prof. Elihu Richter of the Hebrew
University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine answers:
Until about a decade ago, dry cleaning establishments were notorious for
releasing perc volatiles to the adjacent environment, including apartments next
to and above them and the surrounding neighborhood. And yes, there can be
a slow release of the chemical from wall surfaces and clothing. All the
foregoing can produce exposures that increase risk of cancer, miscarriages and
Parkinson’s and various neurotoxic effects, and possibly a statistically
detectable risk for schizophrenia in offspring exposed in utero.
no such thing as a safe threshold for such exposures. If there are odors coming
from the store, that by definition means there could be a problem, as do
sensations of dizziness, headache, grogginess and more. But the absence
of odors and these sensations does not mean there is no problem.
past 10 years or so, there have been substantial improvements in the technology
of dry cleaning to meet new standards of design and performance. The ideal
solution is the use of substitutes that do not contain volatile organic
compounds. But even if perc is used, newer machines are much more “enclosed”
when they operate, and exposures are much lower.
The burden of proof is
on those selling you the apartment to produce measurements showing ambient
levels below the threshold of detection from repeated tests. Better to be safe
than sorry. I suggest consulting with the Health Ministry’s environmental
toxicology division for further information on measurements.
that walking the suit to the car will air it out. There is no guarantee of zero
risk from anything, except maybe orange juice. But we have to put this
theoretical risk in perspective in relation to all the other more real ones –
diesel fuel, speed on the roads, cell phones to the head and so on.
the way, I was walking on Broadway in Manhattan recently and passed a dry
cleaning shop using organic water-based agents as substitutes, thereby totally
eliminating the risk. The manager, a gracious and perky Chinese lady, happily
told me why perc is no longer necessary. I would like to see the same thing with
all solvent-based paints: Make them water-based, as they did in
Sweden. It would put the other companies out of business.
I read a
newspaper supplement recently with recipes for baking high individual cakes in
ordinary tin cans. Is it dangerous to do so? Do they contain plastic or glue or
other substances as coating on the inside? Is it safe to heat such containers?
Health Ministry chief toxicologist Dr. Tamar Berman replies:
Metal-based food and beverage cans can contain the industrial chemical bisphenol
A (BPA). Since these containers are intended for food storage and preservation
and not for baking foods, I would not recommend baking in such cans. BPA levels
rise in food when containers/products made with the chemical are heated and come
in contact with the food.
Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers
about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting.
Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your
question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to
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