The Wellesley Townsman - February 1, 2021

Setting The Record Straight

I would like to take the opportunity to set the record straight regarding the letter that Mr. William Fisher of the International Fabricare Institute wrote to the Townsman last week. Mr. Fisher took issue with what he terms to be my "less than accurate and inflammatory" remarks concerning dry-cleaners in my article entitled "Dry Cleaning can pose a risk to your health" (Wellesley Townsman, January 11, 2021). I think that a closer read of my article will show that I, in no way, made derogatory remarks (or, to use Mr. Fisher's word, "smear[ed]") about dry-cleaners as an entity. The article is about dry-cleaning, not dry-cleaners.

Nor did I urge people to eliminate dry-cleaning altogether from their lifestyles. In fact, the opening sentence of my article is "If you're like me, you get a number of your clothes dry-cleaned." This sentence is in the present tense, and it would have been hypocritical of me, having said that, to tell people to stop getting their clothes dry-cleaned. Rather, the intent of the article was to educate consumers about the potential (a word that was used throughout the article) hazards of the dry-cleaning solvent perchloroethylene, and, additionally, to inform them that there are some dry-cleaners in town that use alternatives to "perc." The intent of the article is in keeping with the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project's mission to educate the community.

Just how many dry-cleaners in this town actually have alternatives is something I do not know because, despite repeated attempts to contact local dry-cleaners, only three of them responded to my requests for information. What I do know is that many dry-cleaners across the nation and in this state are exploring alternatives to “perc,” at considerable cost to themselves. If there were not some concerns about "perc", then why would they choose to pursue these alternatives?

The mission of the WCPP is also linked with the Precautionary Principle which states: "when an activity raises the threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established."

Since perchloroethylene has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, and since OSHA has recommended that "perc" be handled as a human carcinogen (Source: Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass/Lowell), it might behoove individuals to use some precaution regarding their exposure to it. Mr. Fisher draws an erroneous analogy with household ammonia, household bleach, and household detergents, which he seems to feel are benign but which have their health hazards as well. It is also worth noting that these household products come with precautionary labels and directions for the consumer, while we are given no precautions about the solvent used to clean our clothes. I do not believe this is because no precaution is necessary, as Mr. Fisher would have us believe. Just as the dry-cleaners themselves take precautions to ensure the safety of their workers (and nowhere in my article did I say otherwise), consumers might like to take some precautions regarding whether or not they choose to have their clothes cleaned with "perc" particularly when there are alternatives available. The first step in taking precaution is education. Most individuals who commented personally to me about the article did not even know what solvent was used for dry-cleaning, let alone that it was a probable carcinogen. They were glad to be informed, but few of them said they were going to eliminate dry-cleaning from their lives completely.

Finally, I did not ever say that the Newton study about elevated cancer rates cited dry-cleaning per se. What that study did suggest is that there needs to be a closer look at the factors that are pertinent to elevated cancer rates in higher socio-economic areas, since money and education are not factors that cause cancer. I even went on to say that the WCPP does not have definite answers, but we would like to offer information to the Wellesley community about less-toxic alternatives. Perhaps Mr. Fisher and I could engage in a more productive dialogue if he outlined what some of those alternatives are, since they do exist and are even part of a study conducted by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of UMass/Lowell. Two of the three dry-cleaners who responded to our survey were interested in some information about these alternatives, and we provided it to them. We would be happy to provide the same information to the other dry-cleaners in Wellesley.

I would like to close by urging Wellesley residents to attend our forum entitled "An In-Depth Look: Environmental Toxins, Our Health, and Precaution" co-sponsored by the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project, the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, and the Wellesley Pesticide Awareness Campaign. The forum will be held on Wednesday, February 7, 2001 at 7:30pm at the Wellesley Community Center.