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What's That Smell? PCE or Perc

PCE Health Effects/Standards

Drycleaners as your Neighbors or Tenant?

PCE Exposure/ Odor Occurance

Real Estate Buyers Beware

SPECIAL INSERT: Travel Tips for Europe

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What's That Smell? PCE or Perc

     Perchloroethylene or Tetrachloroethylene is a colorless, non-flammable liquid comprising 80-85% of the dry-cleaning fluids used in the United States. PCE has a sharp, sweet, ether-like odor which can be detected at concentrations as low as 1 ppm. PCE is an industrial chlorinated solvent that is also widely used in metal cleaning, degreasing, paint strippers, and spot removers. PCE is also found in many household products such as: adhesives, cleaners, lubricants, inks, shoe polish, and typewriter correction fluids.

PCE Health Effects / Standards

     Inhalation of PCE vapors can cause ocular and upper respiratory irritation. PCE exposure can also result in central nervous symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue and headaches. Prolong exposure to relatively high concentrations of PCE can result in liver and kidney damage. NIOSH considers PCE a potential human carcinogen.

OSHA Standards



ACGIH Standards



Drycleaners as Your Neighbor or Tenant?

     Modern drycleaners use a dry-to-dry, closed looped system which recycle PCE during the fabric cleaning process. Both the washer and dryer are in the same machine. PCE liquid is not exposed to the atmosphere unless the machine door is open.

     Clothes are placed in a rotating, perforated, stainless-steel basket which is immersed/sprayed with the dry-cleaning fluid (i.e. washer). The PCE liquid is then extracted by spinning/draining the liquid and exposing the clothes to warm air which vaporizes any residual PCE (i.e. dryer). The PCE liquid is then filtered and stored for reuse. Resultant PCE vapors are condensed on cooling coils and also stored for reuse.

PCE exposure/odor occurs primarily during:

  1. Loading/reloading the machine. Therefore, local exhaust ventilation should be installed at the machine door.
  2. Pre-treatment and additional PCE spotting of fabrics outside of the machine.
  3. Pressing of cleaned fabric.
  4. Poor work practices resulting from spills and machine maintenance including filter replacement.

     General ventilation is normally provided by opening of area doors, windows and use of fans. A carbon-filtered system should be installed to control PCE emissions to the atmosphere from the dry-cleaning machine.

     Due to the volatility of PCE, odor investigations are periodically performed by AET in situations which the drycleaner is located within a shopping center or mall. PCE odors can be re-entrained into the ventilation systems of adjacent spaces. Generally, PCE odors can be controlled by improved work practices and enhanced area ventilation.

     As a general rule, clothes should not have any residual PCE odors after drycleaning. Further, odors should not be observed within the drycleaning establishment where clothes are picked up or dropped off. A perceptible PCE odor is an indication of a possible malfunction of the drycleaning equipment and/or inadequate controls.

Real Estate Buyers Beware: Phase I ESAs

     Past/current drycleaning operations at a property can represent a significant recognized environmental condition (REC) for future property owners. PCE and related daughter products, such as Chloroform, Trichloroethylene and Trichloroethane are common groundwater contaminants. PCE is a dense, non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) which is 1.75 times more dense than water, does not bind well to soil and moves rapidly through the subsurface to the underlying ground water aquifer. The enhanced density of PCE also makes remediation of this contaminant costly and very difficult (as PCE sinks in water not floats like oil).

Case Study - Brownfield Pittsburgh, PA

     AET was contracted to perform a Phase II Site Investigation at an abandoned drycleaner prior to site redevelopment. Soil sampling confirmed elevated PCE levels in the former drum storage, loading dock and drycleaning machine areas of the property. Several non-controlled floor drains were observed.

     Building demolition was completed and a Remediation Action Plan was prepared. Soil removal was performed in excavation pits until acceptable soil conditions were verified. Problems in soil remediation were encountered due to the high water table and water infiltration into the excavations. Ground water sampling from various test wells confirmed elevated PCE levels in the ground water.

     This Brownfield site was remediated in accordance with PA Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act (Act 2). Act 2 encourages redevelopment of Brownfield sites by meeting clear uniform cleanup standards based on risk (i.e. statewide heath standards). The goal is to transform these abandoned, idle properties, into economic opportunities for developers and job creation for the state.

     This site was classified as a Special Industrial Area (SIA). No further remediation actions were required by the PA DEP after follow-up groundwater sampling. Currently, release of lien of liability from PADEP is being sought under a site specific standard.

SPECIAL INSERT:  Travel Tips for Europe

Before you Go

  1. Make photocopy of passport, credit cards, drivers license, etc. and put it in your luggage.
  2. Email yourself the itinerary for your trip, including important phone numbers and addresses.
  3. Plan to use bank machines (ATMs) to get your Euros. Provides best exchange rates.
  4. Don't bring many US dollars. Use exchange locations only in emergencies.
  5. Contact your credit card companies to notify you will be traveling overseas.
  6. Have more then 1 credit card (Visa or MC) American Express is not readily accepted in many areas. This will help if 1 is lost or eaten by a bank machine.
  7. Contact your cell phone carrier about use in Europe. You can use public phones by purchasing a phone card at newsstands while you are there.
  8. Bring one small wheeled bag. If you can't fit your cloths, you have overpacked. The Laundromat is sometimes your best source of travel information.

Your Medical Requirements

  1. Whatever your ill or pain, bring your assorted cures from home. If something can go wrong, it probably will.
  2. Drink plenty of water to supplement your diet.
  3. Bring a copy of your medical insurance cards
  4. Print in the countries language you are traveling, your medical conditions, symptoms, and drugs you may use. Remember the pharmacist may not speak English.
  5. Pharmacies are marked with a red or green cross in most countries. The pharmacists have more flexibility to prescribe prescriptions then in the states.


  1. Don't go without GPS and good map. For GPS use put the location of the closest large town, not your final destination. Coordinate use of large roads by this method.
  2. Rent a GPS. If you bring your own, make sure it is operating properly before you leave the rental lot.
  3. Where feasible use autostrada to get as close as possible to your point of destination. Many roads do not have route numbers. Street signs are either not present or you will not be able to understand them. Your GPS won't be able to pronounce them.
  4. Learn how to use self serve gasoline and payment machine. Where feasible, use credit card. However, some stations use only cash machines. Fill up every ½ tank.
  5. Use credit cards on toll roads and autostrada. Save cash for cash only events.
  6. Driving is a two person operation. There are new signs, turns and driving methods for the driver. Your passenger must be the navigator with the maps and traffic oversight.
  7. Although there are speed limits on the autostrada, you will rarely see the police. When traveling in the outside passing lane, you can never go fast enough. Keep looking at your rear view mirror for the next motorcycle, Benz, BMW or Audi. His bumper will be on yours in a short period.
  8. Driving in large cities is discouraged. Scooters are everywhere and there is no small enough space between you and the next guy that they will not try and fit in.


  1. Cars are small, parking spaces are smaller. Always push in sideview mirrors when parked.
  2. When parked in a major city, take a digital photograph of landmarks, street signs, etc. to find your way back if you get lost.
  3. At indoor parking garages, find the way out (word for exit). Be sure you pay before reaching the exit gate.


  1. Always carry sufficient cash to pay for accommodations. Many B&B's take only cash.
  2. Always check the hotel room door to verify if it is locked. They don't auto lock in Europe.
  3. When traveling in off-season ski areas, almost everything is closed.
  4. Plan to visit cities on the weekends and resorts in the middle of the week.
  5. Some small towns do not permit cars to enter and you must park at a parking lot outside the town. Buses are normally not provided and you must walk in. Plan to take a small day pack with you to pack cloths for use in these instances. The day pack is also useful for carrying your camera, food items, etc.
  6. Hotels will always ask for and sometimes hold until you leave your passport. Don't leave without it.

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