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Industry Group Fights Solvent Classification

July 28, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The corner dry cleaner could become a thing of the past if the Environmental Protection Agency goes against the recommendations of an outside advisory panel and classifies a widely used solvent as a probable cause of cancer in humans, an industry representative said Tuesday.

″My first forecast is you will be darn lucky to find dry cleaning″ if EPA ranks perchloroethylene as a probable rather than possible cause of cancer in human beings, said William E. Fisher, assistant general manager and vice president of the International Fabricare Institute.

The substance, introduced in the 1930s, is used in about 75 percent of the estimated 26,000 dry cleaning establishments in the country, said Fisher. Most of those shops are small and are a key source of entry-level jobs for the unskilled.

Representatives of the Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance met last Thursday with EPA administrator Lee Thomas to argue against the classification. The organization contends that laboratory tests on animals and available records on humans fail to make such a strong case against the chemical, said HSIA president Paul Cammer, a biochemical toxicologist.

HSIA sought the EPA meeting and held the media briefing in response to reports that the EPA staff planned to put the chemical in its Category B, the category for ″probable″ rather than ″possible″ cause of cancer, even though the Science Advisory Board recommended against such a strict classification.

EPA spokeswoman Alicia Tenuta said that recent data showing kidney tumors in rats and liver tumors in mice as a result of perchloroethylene inhalation have caused the agency’s carcinogen assessment group to lean toward the reclassification.

The science advisory board, a group of outside scientists that advises the agency, said the animal evidence is limited because the tumors were found in only one strain of mouse, and the tumors were of a type that are common and difficult to interpret.

Ms. Tenuta said there is no resolution and no policy statement on perchloroethylene, which has been regulated for more than a decade. There was no indication when a decision might be made.

Cammer and others said that the reclassification to probable human carcinogen would expose the dry cleaning industry automatically to lawsuits, insurance rate increases and regulation by state and local authorities even before the EPA issued new regulations in response to the new classification.

Other solvents rely on petroleum derivatives, which are combustible, and on fluorocarbons, which can harm the stratospheric ozone layer, industry officials say.

Perchloroethylene is also used to degrease metal, in chemical milling and in final textile preparation.