Sunday, September 18, 2011

High Levels of Carcinogens in Dry-Cleaning, Study Shows

Georgetown researchers have found that perchloroethylene (PCE), a potentially carcinogenic dry cleaning solvent, is retained in dry-cleaned clothes made of polyester, cotton or wool.

The levels increase with repeat cleanings, according to the researchers, whose work appeared Aug. 30 online in Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry.

“The question is, can the levels of PCE we find be absorbed through the skin or inhaled in quantities large enough to harm people,” says Georgetown professor Paul Roepe, who supervised the study. “We don’t have the complete answers to those questions, but I think we know enough to suggest that more studies should be done very quickly.”

The Georgetown study is the first to quantify the amounts of PCE in dry-cleaned clothing, according to Roepe, a professor in Georgetown’s chemistry department as well as the biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology department.

Human PCE exposure has been linked to elevated risk of cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has labeled PCE a likely carcinogen.

The researchers found that PCE, absorbed through inhalation, mouth or skin contact, is slowly emitted from dry-cleaned fabrics even when wrapped in dry plastic wrap.

In a warm, closed environment such as inside a car or a closet, the chemicals could be expelled at an even greater rate, the study’s authors say. more