Local dry cleaners abandon toxic process

July 18, 2014
By

HYDE SQ.—J&P Dry Cleaners is undergoing the costly process of abandoning toxic dry-cleaning chemicals.

J&P, opening a third storefront at 300B Centre St. this month, is part of a local chain owned by JP resident Myra Vargas and her family. Decades into dealing with toxic chemicals, Vargas decided to go green.

Tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), or “perc,” as it is called in the industry, is a hydrocarbon that is the standard active chemical in the dry-cleaning process. However, it has been classified as “likely carcinogenic” to people by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It can be absorbed by breathing or skin contact, so it poses a threat mainly to employees.

When her family started the business, “we didn’t know perc was so dangerous for us, for our health,” Vargas told the Gazette.

But making the switch to a nontoxic wet-cleaning process that uses water and other cleaning agents is a big risk, she explained. All-new machinery and equipment is required, which is a major expense.

“I thought [making the switch] would be too expensive,” she said.

But after meeting JP New Economy Transition (JP NET) member Carlos Espinoza-Toro, Vargas got some help with the cost. JP NET put her in touch with the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI), which provided a $15,000 grant to help offset the cost of new equipment. JP NET is also providing community organizing support to drum up enough business to cover the expenses. And J&P is raising $18,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, with non-toxic cleaning gift certificates for backers.

So Vargas committed to the change.

“We did research, talked to people who have had it for a while and they showed us how to work with the new system,” she said. “It’s been a lot of work and investment. We’re hoping people will like it.”

Vargas is planning a grand opening for her Hyde Square location next month, but its doors are already open.

No other local dry cleaners have made the switch to no-perc wet-cleaning.

J&P Dry Cleaners has its original location in Roslindale and another storefront in Brighton. Its website is jpdrycleaners.com and its Kickstarter to support the move away from perc is kck.st/1kATsiZ.

Myra and Ernesto Vargas (center), from J&P Cleaners, accept a grant from Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute to cover part of the cost of switching to nontoxic cleaning chemicals last month. With them are (from left): Claire Miller (Toxic Action Center), Polly Hoppin (Lowell Center for Sustainable Production), Carlos Espinoza-Toro and Chuck Collins (JP New Economy Transition), Molly Jacobs & Dr. Richard Clark (Lowell Center for Sustainable Production). (Photo Courtesy TURI)

Myra and Ernesto Vargas (center), from J&P Cleaners, accept a grant from Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute to cover part of the cost of switching to nontoxic cleaning chemicals last month. With them are (from left): Claire Miller (Toxic Action Center), Polly Hoppin (Lowell Center for Sustainable Production), Carlos Espinoza-Toro and Chuck Collins (JP New Economy Transition), Molly Jacobs & Dr. Richard Clark (Lowell Center for Sustainable Production). (Photo Courtesy TURI)