The 1995 Oregon Legislature established a dry cleaner environmental program. In exchange for liability relief from cleanups and cleanup costs, dry cleaners pay fees that go into a fund used to clean up solvent contamination at dry cleaner sites. The law protects dry cleaners, under specified circumstances, from individually having to pay for environmental damage caused by the use of dry cleaning solvents at their establishments.
The program started through the Oregon Legislature’s passage of House Bill 3216, creating Oregon’s dry cleaner statute. Oregon’s dry cleaning industry proposed the legislation to address liability concerns under Oregon’s cleanup law. That law requires responsible parties to pay for cleanup of contaminated property. Unfortunately, dry cleaner cleanups are very costly (sometimes exceeding $1 million for one site), and may exceed the value of the dry cleaning business. The dry cleaning industry worried that cleanup costs could put many dry cleaners out of business, killing jobs and leaving empty storefronts across Oregon, and potentially leaving no responsible parties to finish the cleanups.
Environmental contamination at dry cleaner sites can occur from spills or leaks of solvent. In addition, before the risks were widely known, many dry cleaners contaminated their properties by throwing spent filters and sludge on the ground, or pouring spent solvent and wastewater into a floor drain or leaky sanitary sewer. Dry cleaning solvents can contaminate soil and groundwater, flow toward nearby drinking water wells, evaporate into neighboring buildings, or affect workers who do excavation in contaminated soil. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law passed in 1980 and amended in 1984, increased regulation of hazardous waste. Dumping practices that previously were common are no longer allowed. However, at some dry cleaner facilities, past disposal and management practices have resulted in contamination of soil and groundwater that requires cleanup.
Preventing future contamination
Oregon rules require all dry cleaners to implement waste minimization measures to reduce the amount of dry cleaning solvent emitted to the air and reduce the potential for spills of solvent to soil and groundwater. Reducing spilled and wasted dry cleaning solvent prevents impacts to neighbors and the environment while also saving the dry cleaner money on solvent costs. Dry cleaners must meet the following waste minimization requirements:
Use only acceptable types of dry cleaning equipment.
Manage dry cleaning waste as hazardous waste, unless it has been determined to be non-hazardous.
Manage solvent-contaminated wastewater according to state rules. The rules prohibit discharging solvent-contaminated wastewater to a sanitary sewer, septic system, boiler, on the ground, or to surface water.
Provide leak containment under and around dry cleaning equipment and solvent-containing items.
Submit annual reports of waste minimization and hazardous waste management practices.
Report releases of dry cleaning solvent.
In addition, some additional requirements apply to dry cleaners that use perchloroethylene (perc) solvent:
Use only closed, direct-coupled delivery systems when receiving perc.
Comply with additional air quality monitoring and recordkeeping requirements.
Complying with waste minimization and reduction requirements is necessary for a facility to be eligible for cleanup using funding from the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Account, which DEQ administers. Perc, the most commonly used dry cleaning solvent over the past 50 years, is listed as a toxic chemical because it causes nerve and organ damage and likely can cause cancer in humans. Of Oregon’s approximately 200 dry cleaners, 40 percent still use perc. The remainder have switched to alternative solvents, which are generally less toxic than perc.
Sites contaminated with solvents must be cleaned up to a level that is protective of human health and the environment and is based on the current and reasonably likely future uses of the land and groundwater. DEQ publishes Risk-Based Concentrations for various chemicals, including perc, to help determine whether site concentrations could pose a risk. Under the dry cleaner program, DEQ can use funds from the account to clean up a site or reimburse a dry cleaner owner or operator who conducts a cleanup. DEQ can only reimburse costs that are pre-approved.
Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Account
Oregon dry cleaners and dry stores (storefronts that do pick-up and drop-off for dry cleaners) pay fees to DEQ‘s dry cleaner program annually. The fees are deposited into the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Account and then used to conduct assessment and cleanup of contaminated dry cleaner sites. Dry cleaner fees provide the account with about $500,000 each year, which is dwarfed by the $100 million (roughly estimated) that it would take to clean up all contaminated dry cleaner sites in Oregon. DEQ tries to carefully prioritize cleanup work to make the funds go as far as possible.