Environmental cleanup at defunct Petaluma dry cleaner

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State environmental regulators are cleaning up the site of a former dry cleaner, removing traces of a banned solvent as the first step toward placing a new business into the heart of downtown Petaluma.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control, or DTSC, is undertaking the cleanup operation at the former Petaluma Quick Clean at 214 Western Ave. to clear out perchloroethylene, a commonly used dry cleaning solvent that’s being phased out statewide by 2023. The California Air Resources Board banned it from new dry cleaning machines in 2007.

Also known as perc, the liquid substance helps dissolve greases, oils and waxes without damaging the fabric. In 1985, at its peak, 100 million metric tons were produced worldwide.

DTSC project manager Robert Boggs said the upcoming cleanup effort should be “pretty standard” compared to some of the others the agency is actively working on, although an official plan hasn’t been formalized just yet.

“Throughout the state, there’s 14,000 of these sites,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot were small business owners that may not even be around anymore that operated in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” and used the solvent for years.

Testing was done on the soil, water and air at the shop, and found that the contamination was limited to a small area and didn’t have any impact on the neighboring businesses, Boggs said. He stressed that groundwater from this area is not used as drinking water, and posed no risk to residents.

So far, one consultant recommended mitigations as simple as sealing any cracks in the ground and installing a new air conditioning system. Boggs said the agency will likely depressurize the ground beneath the slab floor to remove any lingering traces of perc from the air.

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified perchloroethylene as carcinogenic to humans, and studies found links between extensive use in the workplace and several types of cancer including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

It’s not clear if anyone associated with Petaluma Quick Clean suffered from cancer associated with long-term use of the substance.

A new tenant has not been announced for the site yet. Any business that serves sensitive receptors like a daycare, for example, would require a more stringent mitigation plan, Boggs said.

Once the project is complete, the shop will be safe to use for any typical business that operates 40-80 hours a week, he said.

The project is currently in the public outreach phase before any work begins. DTSC distributed surveys to gauge local interest, and would likely visit with residents if there’s an appetite for more information.

“If there’s a lot of community concern, we’ll have a community meeting to inform the public about the site and what’s being proposed to clean it up,” Boggs said.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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