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Cleaning Up Chemicals from Dry Cleaners

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources is evaluating a number of sites around the state deemed hazardous because of spilled dry-cleaning solvent. There's a spill in Carrboro that originated from a dry-cleaner in the 70s that's no longer there. John Powers is the director of DENR's Dry Cleaning Solvent Clean Up Act team. He says the first thing they do when a site is volunteered for clean-up is to evaluate water to find out the extent of the contamination.

"And we also start looking for, is anyone drinking groundwater? Is anyone on wells around the site. And also as is the case with the site in Carrboro, we look to see if anyone may be threatened by the vapors that may be coming from this contamination."

The chemical in question is feared to cause cancer.

 "The chemical, it goes under a number of names," says Powers. "The name we use the most is perchloroethylene, or PERC for short. It's been labeled a potential carcinogen for a number of years now and there is a proposal to elevate that to a likely human carcinogen.

But Powers says it's uncommon for people living at or near the sites to need to move because exposure risk is still small and can be dealt with quickly.

"It's pretty uncommon that there are any exposures to these chemicals to this contamination that would warrant anyone leaving or moving or anything like that. It's just, we go out, we find if there's a problem with anyone's drinking well or with their home, if vapors may be moving into their home. And we can immediately take action, and we do, to eliminate that exposure to that chemical at that point."

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