Perchloroethylene (PERC)

Perchloroethylene (PERC) is a man-made, non-flammable, colorless chemical that easily evaporates into the air. PERC is often used in dry cleaning, but is also used in manufacturing and in auto repair shops.

If you live above or next to a dry cleaner, you may be exposed to it. There are no readily available medical tests to find out if you have been exposed to PERC. The best way to check is to measure the air in your home for PERC.

The health department offers free home air testing for residents who live in buildings with a dry cleaner. To see if you are eligible for a free air test, call 311 or email EHAC@health.nyc.gov.

Health Effects

The longer you are exposed to PERC, the more health issues it can cause. People who use or manufacture the chemical are more likely to have health problems. When there is a lot of PERC in the air, exposure can cause:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty speaking and walking
  • Irritation to skin, lungs, eyes, nose and throat

Several years of PERC exposure can cause damage to your nervous system, vision, liver and kidneys. It may also cause certain cancers.

If you believe you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to your health care provider. If you have questions, you can also call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (212-674-7667), 212-VENENOS (212-836-3667) or 212-340-4494, or call 311.

Regulations for Dry Cleaners

Dry cleaners that still use PERC must follow New York State regulations to keep PERC vapors at a low level. Employers must protect workers from PERC exposure.

Air test results for PERC are measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) or parts per billion (ppb).

In homes, the New York State Department of Health recommends that the average air level of PERC not exceed 0.03 µg/m3 (0.004 ppm). High levels may indicate that dry cleaning equipment is not operating properly and needs to be fixed. For workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to keep air levels below 678 µg/m3 (100 ppb) over an eight-hour work day.

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