Activists “PERC” up to new findings

PERC may be even more dangerous than previously thought.

Two recent scientific studies about the carcinogenic effects of a chemical that has been found in East Williamsburg and Greenpoint is concerning Brooklyn environmental groups who are lobbying State Department of Health officials to change their environmental standards.

A National Academies of Sciences study, released in February 2010, has found that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classification of tetrachloroethylene, also known as PERC, as a likely human carcinogen is supported by the EPA’s earlier assessments of adverse health effects for the solvent.

In addition, a University of Albany and state Attorney General study on the chemical found a correlation between human exposure to PERC and elevated levels of kidney cancer, specifically looking at zip codes with high densities of dry cleaners that use PERC and the rate of hospital discharges for kidney cancer.

PERC, also known as perchloroethylene or PCE,is a common chemical solvent used in industrial dry cleaning. When it leaches into the ground and surface water and soil, or is exposed to the air, it can be detected as a contaminant.

At a public forum regarding the Meeker Avenue Plumes held in Williamsburg last month, Department of Environmental Conservation officials noted that they found a sample of 73 percent pure PERC underground at the southeast corner of Norman and Kingsland avenues, the site of the former Spic and Span Dry Cleaners.

“What’s significant here is that the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most respected scientific organizations in the country, has concluded and agreed with the EPA that PCE is a carcinogen,” said Michael Schade, Campaign Coordinator for Center for Health and Environmental Justice (CHEJ) and a Greenpoint resident. “In some cases, it is migrating into people’s homes.”

In December 2009, 30 environmental groups, including CHEJ, wrote a letter asking the state Department of Health (DOH) to revisit its levels of indoor air guidelines permitting mitigation if PERC was found near residential properties. The group called on the DOH to adopt a new guideline that is at least as strict as the U.S. EPA’s PCE Regional Screening Level of 0.41 ?g/m3.

In a response dated December 30, 2009, the DOH Center of Environmental Health Director Howard Freed wrote that the agency will revisit its guidelines in 2010, which could enable the agency to test more homes for PERC contamination.

“Our review will consider, among other information, the US EPA’s toxicological review of PCE, a draft of which is currently undergoing external peer review by the National Academy of Sciences,” said Freed, who noted that a final report is due by summer 2010.

When the question of guidelines was brought up at the forum, a DOH spokesperson challenged whether the EPA’s study was peer reviewed and did not indicate that the Department would be considering further modifications to its guidelines but that it would offer environmental testing to residents who requested it.

When asked for clarification, a DOH spokesperson explained that PCE guidelines had been established over ten years ago and that they will be revisiting the standards.

“Our review will consider, among other information, new toxicological studies, the US EPA’s draft risk assessment of PCE, and the review of the US EPA report by an expert panel of scientists associated with the NAS, which was released on February 9, 2010,” said DOH spokesperson Diane Mathis.

Schade believes that the EPA must move forward this year to finalize their risk assessment on the chemical to enable the state to protect Williamsburg families.

“Additionally the state Department of Health needs to act swiftly to develop new guidelines for PCE, especially in light of new science showing PCE to be more hazardous than previously thought,” said Schade.