Other than the possible neurotoxic vapors, this place rocks.
November 6, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Some friends of mine live in a brilliant location in downtown DC, and one of them is leaving, giving me an opening to move in. This is far and away the best apartment I've ever had a shot at. Just one possible catch: the building's ground floor is a dry-cleaning business, so I'm concerned about exposure to PERC. Should I be? Does DC have any more stringent regulations than those enforced by the EPA? Can I request a test of air quality in the building before I move in (as appears to be available in NYC)?
posted by phrontist to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Best answer: To be sure, do they actually perform the dry cleaning on the premises there? It could just be a pick-up/drop-off point where the actual cleaning is done at a centralized location. Also, have you confirmed that they use perc? Many cleaners still do, but a non-trivial number have switched to alternate processes. No sense getting yourself all worried if there's nothing to worry about first.
posted by zachlipton at 10:02 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work in the (environmental consulting) industry. If I were looking at moving into this building, this is what I would do:

-Does the business currently do drycleaning on-site? Many operations nowadays will ship things to an off-site plant to minimize their perc-using locations. You can find this out by asking the people who work at the drycleaners.

-If they do clean on-site, what kind of solvent do they use? Again, you can ask this. Don't trust signs saying "All Green Cleansers!" because they can be bullshit. The employees may or may not be able to answer you.

-If they do currently use non-green cleansers (basically, perc/PCE/perchloroethylene), I would suggest calling your local Department of the Environment to ask what they recommend. This appears to be their website; I haven't dealt with them specifically in the past. If there is an indoor air quality testing program, they will know about it.

-Even if the dry cleaner only used perc in the past, and no longer operates on-site, it's possible they released it to the ground and it's now coming back into the air via indoor vapor intrusion. Your local Department of the Environment would also have records on any previously reported releases or remedial cleanups.
posted by pie ninja at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

3rding asking whether they clean in-shop - I live in Mt. Pleasant, and each of the three dry cleaners in the neighborhood are "drop shops", doing all of their cleaning off site.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:12 AM on November 6, 2012

Yeah, especially in the newer buildings they are building, all of which seem to come with a "Georgetown Valet" storefront, I think most of the places are drop shops.
posted by OmieWise at 10:45 AM on November 6, 2012

Response by poster: I just walked over and asked: the answer was equivocal. First she said perc was "what was normally used" and then said something about being "organic". Reviews here indicate they do the cleaning on site, but I couldn't tell one way or another by what I saw behind the counter.

The marquee claims a cleaner has operated there since 1890. I guess I'll just have to call the city.
posted by phrontist at 10:50 AM on November 6, 2012

Best answer: I don't know the answers to most of your questions, but from my understanding of what every toxicologist I've talked to has said, yes, you should be concerned. Especially given the historic nature of the dry cleaner (ie the vapor intrusion concerns raised above), but generally, tetrachloroethylene is some surprisingly nasty stuff (there is controversy, but it's all about the magnitude of the nastiness and the cost to small business, not whether it's quite toxic). If the city can't help you, you might see if there are any other ways you could get a low-cost air quality test - this time of year when windows are closed is when you would want to do it, anyway.

Other issues to consider: whether you plan to live there short or long term, the state of the ventilation. If it's drafty and you'd only live there are year, that might be a risk you want to take.
posted by ldthomps at 11:09 AM on November 6, 2012

Reviews here indicate they do the cleaning on site, but I couldn't tell one way or another by what I saw behind the counter.

Google Street View shows a large "On-Premises" sign, at least as of when the image was taken, so yeah, it does sound like you have reason to be concerned.
posted by zachlipton at 1:45 PM on November 6, 2012

You know what? Once I lived above a bakery. All day long I smelled chocolate chip cookies and breads baking. It was amazing. When I opened the closets it smelled like I was opening the oven door. Because of this I would NOT like to be above a dry cleaners.
posted by beccaj at 3:29 PM on November 6, 2012

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