Monica’s Dry Cleaners: Victory in South LA

Commercial apparel cleaning services or dry cleaners have been using Perchloroethylene (PERC) as their cleaning solvent for decades. Unfortunately, PERC is a source of significant groundwater contamination and is listed as a hazardous air pollutant by the US Federal Clean Air Act. Throughout this time, PERC was seen as the only available option for this industry. It was soon evident that PERC led to environmental harm and severe health issues. However, many small business owners were unaware of these dangers, leading to dry cleaners being identified as facilities of concern.

In 2008, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed a regulation to phase out PERC by 2020. This regulation forced dry cleaning businesses to search for a new alternative. However, dry cleaners were among the sectors most affected by COVID-19. The vast majority of cleaners are minority-owned, with access to capital extremely challenging to weather a downturn in customer demand while facing the need to replace aging equipment. As cleaners slowly ramp back up post-COVID-19, which machines they choose for replacement equipment  have become a critical question. 

However, due to little guidance on safer alternatives and effective greenwashing, many switched to using hydrocarbon alternatives. In addition to being combustible, hydrocarbons are also a source of air and water pollution. Additionally, it’s usually oil and gas companies that supply dry cleaners solvents and falsely market their product as environmentally or eco-friendly. Unfortunately, many small dry cleaners owned have fallen for the false advertisement and regrettably switched to hydrocarbons based solvents.

But there is a safer alternative. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has identified Professional Wet Cleaning as a better, environmentally-preferred technology. Professional Wet Cleaning is a zero-emission, non-toxic, non-hazardous, energy-efficient, affordable alternative to dry cleaning. Since 2002, PSR-LA has promoted this as the preferred alternative. However, efforts to encourage cleaners to switch have either failed or resulted in regrettable substitution from one toxic dry clean solvent to another. But that is about to change. 

As part of our AB617 community air project in South LA, we partnered with Los Angeles-based AQUA WET CLEAN, the only dedicated service provider for Professional Wet Cleaning in the United States, to identify a South LA cleaner using PERC or hydrocarbons willing to convert to professional wet cleaning and service as a demonstration site. Monica’s Dry Cleaners, a Latino-owned business in South LA is now being converted to Professional Wet Cleaning technology. 

As one of the approximately more than 51 dry cleaners in the area, converting Monica’s Dry Cleaning into Professional Wet Cleaning is a huge step toward clean air in the region and will ensure the protection of customers, their families, and workers from the health risks associated with exposure to toxic dry cleaning solvents. This case study will help demonstrate what a successful Just Transitions initiative can be and strengthen PSR-LA air quality policy goals for the South LA AB617 implementation process. We hope Monica’s transition is the beginning of many Just Transitions in South LA. We’ll document this transition in the weeks/ months to come, so stay tuned for updates on this incredible victory for South LA. 

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