Monday, April 12, 2010

On Perc. And on Trying Anew. And, Most Especially, on Ahimsa & Satya.

-Juliana Mitchell -

There’s a chemical so potently toxic, that our former President Bill Clinton compared it to Agent Orange. The noxious formula is a suspected carcinogen; being linked to numerous forms of cancer and is considered a likely contributor to infertility, among many other issues. Its use is illegal in some countries. Clearly, none of us wish to consume it! But unwittingly, many are.

I speak of perchloroethylene (aka “perc”) the traditional dry cleaner solvent used in America.

Two key things here. One: Perc “off gasses” - a description of which is below. Two: Perc then binds itself to fat molecules, where it remains.

Say a woman walks into a traditional perc cleaner, sipping a frappuccino. She hands a pink ticket to the attendant, and meanwhile perc residue clings invisibly to the garments hanging all around them. Some quantities of those perc molecules move, continuously and invisibly, off the fabric and into the air. This is off-gassing. The dry cleaning equipment at the back is full of perc too it off-gasses even more. The garment gurney rolls by, the attendant and customer exchange pleasantries. With each inhale, the perc in the air moves into their lungs, into their bloodstream and then binds to their body fat. Amounts of airborne perc bind to the milk fats in her frappuccino as well. The beverage is sipped, money is exchanged. Slurp. The perc moves through her digestive tract and into her fat stores. Transaction completed, and with an unwitting share of perc now residing within, she departs. At home, the pants are hung and off-gas for a time. She breathes. If the pants have proximity to her dining or cooking space, some off-gassed perc will bind to the fat in her food. She eats.

Things to ruminate on:

The trip to the dry cleaners described here is a weekly occurrence for some. Can you imagine the bodily accumulation of perc?

Some such dry cleaners occupy commercial space underneath a residential building, where the families are unaware that they and their children may be receiving perc off-gassing into their homes and bodies.

If our customer from the above example were a breast-feeding mom, some portion of the perc would bind itself to the fat in her breast milk and later be ingested by her baby.

Finally, let’s acknowledge the dry cleaning attendants who’re inhaling and ingesting the stuff all workaday long.

A decade ago I learned of the horrors of perc. It was painfully clear that patronizing a perc-use cleaner was harmful to me personally; to anyone I shared my home with and to anyone who came within sniffing distance of me once I donned the clothes. I felt deeply that it was injurious to the workers at the cleaners who, when working on my clothes, would have been ingesting unthinkable toxicity specifically because of me. I was fired up to make the necessary changes in my life. I switched to green cleaners (a green cleaner uses non-perc processes to care for fine fabrics.)

I was also jazzed to get the word out! Surely everyone would want to know and would stop patronizing traditional cleaners. Then our government would outlaw perc and create programs to assist traditional cleaners in transitioning to non-perc methods.

In actuality, most people didn’t want to know. Or, listened aghast, but went right back to using whichever cleaner. I continued to eschew traditional cleaners myself, but generally I stopped sharing this carcinogenic-news.

A decade has passed. Huge, unforeseeable shifts have occurred. I’m feeling hopeful to try anew. This time, I wish to begin with my Yoga community, from the vantage point of Ahimsa - to do no harm and Satya - impeccable truth. Satya and Ahimsa are our primary Yogic directives for balanced living.

I ask this: As Yogis, how can we tolerate and support the harmful nature of perc?

In deference to Satya, I acknowledge that some folk’s very employment depends on a well-fit suit and I’ve yet to find a perc alternative that doesn’t cause some shrinkage. Also, green cleaners tend to be more expensive and may be price prohibitive to some. Yep, some stains are beyond the scope of certain green cleaners. And finally, some people’s livelihoods - at this moment - depend on employment at a perc-use cleaner. Impeccable truth is a complex target.

This considered, it feels aligned with both impeccable truth and intentions of non-harming to return to this: How can we Yogis tolerate and support any perc use at all?

Looking for a perc alternative near you? Check out this site:

1 comment:

  1. You are so right. But organic food used to be hard to find and expensive, and now it's everywhere and reasonably priced. Our most powerful voting tool is not the ballot box but the almighty buck. If you can afford to dry-clean your clothes at all, then you can pony up the extra to go green. Supply and demand works, if you work it!