Dry Cleaning Chemicals

Dry cleaners use chemicals to clean clothes and other fabrics. These chemicals can seep into the ground if not stored or disposed of properly, and can move from the ground into the air of buildings through the foundation. When these chemicals are breathed in, they can be harmful to your health. Dry cleaning chemicals can remain in the environment for decades.

Assessing Child Care Facilities Near Current or Former Dry Cleaners

In an effort to make sure children and child care staff are in safe and healthy environments, the Vermont Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Health, and Children and Families (DCF) are coordinating an assessment to find out if child care facilities have been contaminated with dry cleaning chemicals.

How will I know if my child care facility is being assessed?

DEC is assessing six child care facilities that are within 200 feet of a current or former dry cleaner. Dry cleaning chemicals are most likely to be found within 200 feet of where they were released. Letters were sent to parents and staff of the child care or preschool program of the facilities that will be assessed.

What steps are involved in the assessment?
  1. Air pockets in the soil (soil gas) beneath the building of the child care facility will be tested for dry cleaning chemicals.
  2. If the levels of chemicals in the soil gas are high, the indoor air of the child care facility will be tested.
  3. If the levels of chemicals in the indoor air are high, more steps will be taken. Steps may include more testing or installing a mitigation system to keep the chemicals from getting into the air. Most solutions are simple and may only take a few days or weeks.
What are the health effects of dry cleaning chemicals?

Some dry cleaning chemicals can increase a person’s risk of getting cancer. Some dry cleaning chemicals can affect the development of a baby if a woman is exposed to them while pregnant. At this time, we are not aware of people associated with these child care or preschool programs having health effects. At very high levels, dry cleaning chemicals can affect the central nervous system. It is unlikely that these chemicals will be found at high enough levels to affect the central nervous system.

Is it safe for my child to keep going to their child care or preschool program before the assessment is done?

Yes. Right now parents do not need to keep children home from their child care or preschool program where the assessments are happening. Just like with any other chemical that could be in our drinking water or the air we breathe, the first step is to collect data to understand what chemicals are present.

When will I know the results of the assessment?

Information will be shared with parents and staff of the child care or preschool programs at every step of the assessment. The test results will be mailed to parents and staff as soon as they become available.

If dry cleaning chemicals are found in the air, how will they be removed?

Depending on the amount of chemicals present in the air, the State may help move the child care or preschool program to a temporary facility while the issue is being fixed. In most cases, a sub slab depressurization system will be installed. It is similar to a radon mitigation system. Once this system is installed, the levels of the chemicals in the air will be lowered, which will make it safe to be in the building again. To make sure the system is working properly, testing will be required at least each year until the chemicals in the soil are gone and will no longer get into the indoor air.

Who is paying for the assessment? Who is responsible for removing the chemicals if they are found?

Under State law, the owner of the current or former dry cleaning property may be responsible for covering the costs. If the owner doesn't pay, then the State’s Environmental Contingency fund will be used to pay for testing and the mitigation system.

Who can I contact for more information?
questions about name title department phone email
Assessment and testing process Trish Coppolino Environmental Program Manager Environmental Conservation 802-249-5822 Patricia.Coppolino@vermont.gov
Dry cleaning chemicals and their possible health effects Sarah Vose State Toxicologist Health 800-439-8550 Sarah.Vose@vermont.gov
How the testing and results affect the child care or preschool program’s license Christel Michaud Director of Child Care Licensing Children and Families 802-224-6940 Christel.Michaud@vermont.gov

more questions about dry cleaning chemicals

Why do dry cleaners use chemicals?

The dry cleaning industry began as early as 1855 as a way to remove dirt and stains from clothes with solvents that weren’t water-based. A solvent is a substance—like nail polish remover or paint thinner—that is used to remove another substance. In the dry cleaning industry, tetrachloroethylene (PCE) became the most commonly used solvent.

What chemicals might be present from dry cleaning?
  • Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Vinyl Chloride
  • Chloroethane
  • 1,1-Dichloroethene
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Trans-1,2-Dichloroethene
  • 1,1-Dichloroethane
  • Cis-1,2-Dichloroethene
  • Chloroform
  • Carbon Tetrachloride

Learn more about these chemicals

How do dry cleaning chemicals get into the environment?

In the past, chemicals used in dry cleaning weren’t regulated and PCE was commonly spilled and dumped into the environment (e.g. waste dumped behind the building or into floor drains, leaked through pipes, or spilled out of dumpsters and air vents).

PCE doesn’t break down easily and it can stay in the soil, air pockets in the soil, groundwater and indoor air for a long time. PCE is also highly volatile, which means it can easily become a gas, and it can then contaminate the air of buildings as it travels through the foundation. 

The process of dry cleaning has improved a lot over the years, but the effects of PCE on the environment and human health are still a real concern, especially when dry cleaners are or were in the same building as apartments, offices or other businesses (e.g. strip mall). The main concern today is when PCE is released into the air by dry cleaners.

How many dry cleaners are in Vermont?

DEC has found 420 possible current and former dry cleaner locations in Vermont. Most them are located in developed areas of the state, like town centers and neighborhoods. View a map of current and former dry cleaners

Forty-six of these locations have reported dry cleaning chemical releases to DEC. DEC is managing these locations and many of them have contaminated groundwater, soil and indoor air. The other 374 former locations may also have similar contamination.