A known carcinogen, Tetrachloroethylene is a chemical often used as a solvent for dry cleaning, and now fugitive traces of PERC can be found in many places around the city. The Bronx alone is home to hundreds of contaminated sites, 57 of which are under active remediation.
This project was produced by journalism students at CUNY’s Lehman College. Click here to read their main story, map and video investigation of contaminated brownfields in The Bronx.
Tetrachloroethylene (PERC) is on the EPA’s list of the 10 chemicals in most need of remediation. A known carcinogen, Tetrachloroethylene is a chemical often used as a solvent for dry cleaning, and now fugitive traces of PERC can be found in many places around the city.
The Bronx alone is home to hundreds of contaminated sites, 57 of which are under active remediation. The primary risk lies in the soil, as contaminated water trapped within eventually evaporates and breaks through via fumes. This toxic vapor can escape from the soil within buildings via cracks in the walls or the floor.
Dry cleaners use PERC because it was effective, expediting an otherwise time-consuming process as it was great at removing lubricants, oils, and a variety of stains. It is also less flammable than other cleaners. However, minor spills of the chemical can easily seep into soil and spread to the groundwater, making the area beneath such a dry cleaner toxic.
The danger PERC poses has been known since the 1970s. The compound is resistant to degradation and it easily spreads into the surrounding soil, which makes it a constant pollutant in an area much wider than its origin point. Efforts to limit or ban its use have failed. The chemical industry—really two firms that manufacture PERC—succeeded in beating back attempts to ban its use. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded it is a known carcinogen, the EPA has been unable to get it out of use.
During the presidencies of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the EPA attempted to regulate and even outright ban the use of PERC. However, in 2016 President Donald Trump’s EPA, under the leadership of Scott Pruitt, hindered all attempts to curtail it.
As far back as 1976, under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the EPA was granted authority over the reporting and testing regulations of chemical substances being used in the United States, focused primarily on the use of PCBs. Since 1988, members of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have attempted to regulate and outright ban the use of PERC, beginning with the decommissioning of machines that make use of the chemical near residential homes.
On June 22, 2016, on the tail end of the Obama administration, The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was signed, amending the Toxic Substances Control Act. The Lautenberg Act said that the EPA needed to address certain chemicals…
Read More: What is PERC, and Why is There So Much in The Bronx?