Q1 2022

The Lurking Horror of PFAS Contamination

Drycleaning has a new boogeyman in the form of so-called “forever chemicals” hitching rides into your business on garments. Delanie Breuer, and environmental attorney and shareholder with Reinhart, Boerner Van Deuran explained potential concerns for DLI members and the garment care industry in general in her October 5 presentation “Could PFAS Contamination Impact Your Business.” Here are some takeaways from her presentation, a recording of which is available in the On-Demand Webinar Library in the Members Only Section of DLIonline.org.

What is Happening?

Starting in the 1930s, chemical companies such as Dupont and 3M developed chemicals with a long chains of carbon-fluorine bonds to aid in various applications such as fire suppression, water repellency, non-stick surfaces, and statin resistance, among others. These chemicals do not break down easily, pass freely through soil and water, and contaminate the environment. High concentrations or long-term exposure can lead to certain types of cancers, reduced fertility, developmental delays, and thyroid and heart issues.

Some background levels of PFAS contamination can be entering garment care facilities through the water system. Some area water supplies tested positive for low levels of PFAS contamination. “These chemicals are ubiquitous,” Breuer said.

Regulators are looking to target the garment care industry as a potential way to identify parties who can help fund cleanup efforts, Breuer said. The U.S. EPA identified PFAS chemicals as a primary target in its October 2021 Strategic Roadmap and is looking at universally implementing provisions to “research, restrict, and remediate” PFAS chemicals across all the pertinent rules, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, RCRA, CERCLA, and SDWA.

How Does This Affect Garment Care?

The chemicals can be removed from items in the cleaning process and washed out with the wastewater and make their way to the ground. For example, the fire resistant properties of Gore-Tex(TM) come from PFAS chemicals. Cleaning items with PFAS chemicals can result in the PFAS coming off the items and into your waste – not a big problem for drycleaning but definitely an issue for wet cleaning and laundry operators. Solvents do not appear to contain measurable quantities of PFAS chemicals, rather, these chemicals enter garment care facilities on the garments and items being sent in for cleaning.

How Is This Being Discovered?

Sites are being identified with PFAS contamination through state and federal Departments of Natural Resources. When a site is being tested for perc or other contamination (typically when the property the business is located upon is being sold) a representative may ask that the land owner test for PFAS. “They may not actually have the authority to do that,” Breuer said. In one case an environmental consultant advised their client to “do whatever the DNR says,” which resulted in a world of PFAS headaches for the owner. “Delay can work to your advantage in these cases,” Breuer said. She said, If the DNR lacks authority to compel owners to test for these chemicals, the DNR can ask and the owners can decline to test for them, thereby potentially skirting the issue.

How is PFAS Contamination Remediated?

At present there are no good ways for this to occur. Ground water can be pumped through a set of carbon filters that need to be treated as hazardous waste but this “may or may not work,” Breuer said. If PFAS chemicals are in the soil, the ground can be dug up and carted away as hazardous waste. Neither of these treatments are inexpensive or proven to eliminate the issue.

What Is DLI Doing About This?

DLI is monitoring this situation and will keep members apprised of developments. DLI will also join efforts to comment on this situation as opportunities arise. If this develops into a situation that threatens the industry, DLI will mobilize a grassroots campaign in opposition to new rules that may impose an unfair burden on members.

Slides from Delanie Breuer’s presentation on PFAS contamination.

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