I’m a cancer survivor in an industry, dry cleaning, where most businesses depend on carcinogens. As a licensed airline pilot, I’m quite familiar with how industries balance risks and rewards. But is a smart suit worth risking your family’s health, and perhaps lives, over? That we tolerate this tradeoff shows how something in our urban professional culture has gotten completely unbalanced.
In the United States, 85% of dry cleaners use perchloroethylene (or “perc” and also known as tetrachloroethylene, tetrachloroethene, perchloroethene, and PCE), a chlorocarbon made from petrochemicals and chlorine. The World Health Organization and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency call perc a probable human carcinogen, in addition to the neurological, reproductive, and organ damage it can cause. Red caution flags have been waved over perc’s alternatives, petroleum (marketed as “hydrocarbon” or “organic”) and a volatile silicon compound known commercially as Green Earth. All to clean clothing.
You as a customer are affected, but even harder hit are workers and neighbors surrounding facilities. Because these people are often from lower income, ethnic minority, and immigrant communities, the dry cleaning industry’s toxins amount to a gross environmental injustice. When I pass a dry cleaner or dry cleaning plant and smell the perc, and see kids playing just outside, or even babies with parents in small shops, I get a knot in my stomach. I don’t know what the origins of my cancer were, but I fear we might know the origins of the cancers they will suffer one day.
Though I’m cancer-free for over a year now, I live with its presence every day: My immune system is compromised for life by a loss of lymph nodes and I must submit to the discomfort of regular screenings. That awareness fuels my passion to clean up “cleaning.” I know that Green Apple Cleaners can help change the industry and improve lives for all involved.
Here’s how I, with the huge support of my partners and friends at Green Apple Cleaners, will directly aid cancer causes and lead the industry away from carcinogens by example:
* Support for the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge. Green Apple Cleaners donates its hypoallergenic, nontoxic detergents and softeners to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in NYC. We also provide discounts for dry cleaning to guests, both patients and caretakers. Apple trees donated by Green Apple Cleaners will grow on the balcony garden of the NYC Hope Lodge, which is housed within the Gold level LEED certified Epic tower. If you don’t know about the ACS’s national network of Hope Lodges, I urge you to learn about this incredible resource for families struggling with cancer.
* Participate in Cancer Care Events. We will partner with others in the green community to participate in healthy, inclusive events to raise funds for cancer research, care, and family support.
* Cut Fossil Fuel Use. So often reducing our carbon footprint also equates to reducing the toxins, irritants (especially for asthmatics), and carcinogens in our daily lives. Human health and habitat are one. With that in mind, Green Apple Cleaners will continually strive to reduce our vehicle emissions. Our fleet is new, efficient, and employs a rickshaw tricycle, Smart Cars, hybrid cars, and biodiesel ready, high efficiency Sprinters. If our drivers make the mistake of idling, an alert notice is sent to management. We buy wind power for all of our stores and plants, and we minimize packaging and recycle wherever possible.
* Provide a Healthier Model. We will clean up our industry by proving the success of Green Apple Cleaners’ core processes: CO2 and high tech wet cleaning. Fortunately, dry cleaning is more like the automobiles than tobacco industry: an alternative model can grow from within the industry to safely continue a service to society, rather than merely relying on lawyers to battle back recalcitrant “merchants of death” through litigation. Elected officials, regulators, and other public guardians of health will see how well our systems work and raise the bar for the industry as a whole. With incentives and broad adaptation of these cutting edge technologies, prices for new machinery will come down, and savings will be passed on to consumers. Carcinogen-free cleaning will become the norm! Imagine that?
We have a lot of work ahead of us, and none of it would be possible without our customers – those people pioneering the healthier standards that absolutely must come. For that, I deeply thank you.