Federal, State, and Local Policies Addressing Chemical Emissions from Dry Cleaners: Opportunities for Reducing Exposure at Child Care Facilities

Tobie Bernstein
Date Released
July 2020

Dry cleaners have been a common feature of many commercial and mixed-use areas throughout the United States. Many dry cleaning facilities use tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene, PCE, or perc), an organic solvent with well-documented health effects. EPA has classified PCE as likely to cause cancer in people and has found that PCE may produce a variety of non-cancer health effects, including irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, cognitive and neurological effects, and adverse effects in the kidney, liver, immune system, and hematologic system, and on development and reproduction. 

This report describes federal, state, and local laws and regulations in effect as of 2020 that restrict the use of PCE at dry cleaners. While not exhaustive, the examples described in the report illustrate policies that can help reduce potential PCE exposures at nearby child care facilities and other sensitive land uses. 

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Overview of the Report 

Federal, state, and local policymakers have sought to reduce the impacts of PERC emissions from dry cleaners in three key areas of authority. 

Environmental Health. EPA’s National Perchloroethylene Air Emission Standards for Dry Cleaning Facilities, issued under the Clean Air Act and applicable to both new and existing dry cleaning facilities that use PCE, include a variety of measures aimed at controlling PCE emissions from dry cleaning systems. In 2006, EPA initiated a phase-out on the use of perc dry cleaning equipment co-located with a residence by the end of 2020. Some states and localities have gone further. For example, Maine expanded EPA’s co-location ban to include all buildings with child care, and Philadelphia did the same beginning in 2014. California took a more comprehensive approach, adopting a rule that phased out all existing perc machines by January 2023 and prohibited new perc dry cleaning systems. New York’s air quality regulations for dry cleaners address the use of PCE alternatives. (In 2022, EPA completed an updated risk determination for PCE, and in June 2023, the agency proposed a rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that would ban most uses of PCE, including a ten-year phaseout of PCE use in dry cleaning.) 

Land Use and Zoning. State laws typically delegate to local governments broad authority to control land use and to regulate development to advance public health and welfare. Some localities have used this authority to help ensure that child care and other sensitive facilities are not located in close proximity to polluting facilities. These measures include prohibiting the siting of perc dry cleaners in certain zones, requiring adequate physical separation between new dry cleaners and sensitive uses, and requiring design features to minimize facility emissions or exposure. Though less common, some local land use planning policies incorporate considerations for the siting of new child care facilities near existing air pollution sources such as dry cleaners. 

Child Care Licensing. Since all 50 states license child care facilities, a direct approach to reducing exposure to emissions from existing dry cleaners is to incorporate child care siting requirements into licensing rules. States and local jurisdictions have adopted a variety of child care facility regulations designed to address potential site hazards, and some – including New Jersey, Delaware, and New York City – expressly prohibit or restrict co-location of child care facilities with dry cleaners.


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