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Medford dry cleaner cuts out a chemical

Posted by Travis Andersen  December 11, 2009 11:00 AM

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Tuan Nguyen at his perc-free demonstration on Thursday.

The owner of Best Neighborhood Drycleaner on High Street is plying his trade without a harmful chemical that most competitors use, thanks to an $18,000 state grant.

Best Neighborhood owner Tuan Nguyen has eschewed perchloroethylene - or perc - since June, using a "wet cleaning method" that lets him wash dry-clean-only clothes with water and detergents, and then run them through special tensioning and pressing equipment, which the grant paid for.

Nguyen demonstrated the method for more than a dozen cleaners - some of whom traveled from as far away as Maine - at his business on Thursday. The demonstration was sponsored by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass-Lowell, which awarded the grant.

Joy Onasch, community program manager at TURI, said perc - which seeps into groundwater - has been linked to several health hazards, including miscarriages and other pregnancy complications.

"It's a human carcinogen," Onasch said.

State officials have taken notice. Massachusetts recently designated perc as a Higher Hazard Substance under a state law requiring companies to scale back their use of pollutants.

At Thursday's demonstration, Nguyen told the crowd that the "wet cleaning" method places no strain on his business and keeps employees and customers safe.

"I'm really not comfortable with the perc, because it's toxic," he said.

But several guests noted that it's also effective, including John Arnold, who has a dry cleaning business in Maine. He asked Nguyen if he can remove stains and other substances as well with the new method.

"A certain aspect of Perc eliminates bacteria [on clothing]," Arnold said.

Nguyen said that the water, detergents, and pressing equipment get the job done.

"The clothes look good," he said, adding that customers rarely complain, if ever.

Arnold later told a Globe reporter that he attended the demonstration because "perc is being phased out."

"I hate to see it go," he said. "But you do have to be ready for the future."

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