Dry cleaners' failure to switch machines is costly 

Dozens of San Francisco dry cleaners have had to close shop or are pleading for more time as the deadline to comply with new environmental policies hit.

Shops in question own equipment that uses the solvent perchloroethylene, or perc, in the cleaning process. The solvent is widely used around the country, but it’s been found in recent decades to be extremely toxic and exists in “elevated levels” in apartments above dry cleaning shops, according to the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

To phase out use, California passed a law two years ago requiring all perc dry cleaning shops that share a wall or ceiling with a residence or have machines that have reached the 15-year age limit to discontinue use of the perc machines by July 1.

As of December, 44 shops in The City were not in compliance. As of last week, that number was down to 23, said Barbara Coler, air-quality program manager with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Store owners wanting to stay in business will have to purchase an alternative machine that can cost between $40,000 and $150,000, depending on the technology, according to the Environment Department.

“A number of shops have already either closed, converted to “drop shops” [in which they outsource their cleaning] or switched out to alternative dry cleaning methods,” Coler said.

City and state officials are recommending that owners switch to wet-cleaning technology, which is better for the environment than other alternatives and costs between $40,000 and $70,000. However, professional wet cleaning is a more labor-intensive, a cost that will likely be passed down to customers, industry experts said.

Karl Huie, who owns shops in San Francisco and Sausalito, has touted the wet-cleaning switch, saying the move increased business.

There are currently seven exclusive professional wet cleaners in The City, said Sushma Dhulipala Bhatia of the Environment Department.

The remaining 23 cleaners in The City that are out of compliance have an option for a one-year extension, but it will cost them, Coler said.

Owners can get the extension by entering into a compliance agreement with the air-quality district. They will have to pay ascending penalties each quarter during the year, with fines ranging from $250 to $2,500, Coler said.

Taking ’em to the cleaners

San Francisco dry cleaners are asking for more time to phase out banned machines, and they will face penalties each quarter of the year that they are out of compliance.

$250: First quarter
$500: Second quarter  
$750: Third quarter  
$1,000: Fourth quarter
$2,500: Maximum penalty for one year of noncompliance

Note: Penalties are cumulative for each quarter of noncompliance

Source: Bay Area Air Quality Management District


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