Not without Gloves: Perchloroethylene

There are a number of things you shouldn't touch without gloves, but AMMEX has you covered with superior barrier protection. Perchloroethylene is a non-flammable, colorless, volatile organic compound frequently used in dry cleaning applications. It is also known as tetrachloroethylene, PCE and PERC. While dry cleaning fabrics is the most common use for PERC, it is also used to manufacture other chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons, rubber coatings, insulating fluid or cooling gas for electrical transformers, solvent soaps, printing inks, adhesives, leather treatments and automotive cleaners, among others.

Employees may be exposed to PERC if they work in a facility that dry cleans, degreases metal, produces chemicals, manufactures textiles or coats rubber, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

How are employees exposed to PERC?
Although PERC is the most common solvent used in dry cleaning, it poses serious health risks to workers, especially if employees regularly breathe in vapors or their skin comes into contact with the substance. Exposure may immediately lead to dizziness, blistering or irritation of the skin. Over time, exposure may cause loss of coordination, memory loss and delayed reaction times. Some studies have indicated PERC leads to an increased risk for esophageal, cervical, kidney, liver, skin, lung and bladder cancer, as well as lymphoma and leukemia, although it is unclear if other risk factors affect this. Several organizations, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have classified PERC as a probable human carcinogen. Employees with heart, liver, kidney or lung diseases are at a heightened risk of the effects of PERC.

Dry cleaning workers may be exposed to high levels of this chemical when loading dirty clothes to a machine because contaminated air is forced out. In addition, removing clothes before a cycle is finished, transferring items, cleaning lint traps and changing solvent filters exposes employees to PERC.

How employers combat PERC exposure
Although most PERC-related health problems are caused by inhalation, the chemical may cause irritation after direct contact with the skin. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration limits PERC exposure in the workplace. Over the course of eight hours, workers should be exposed to no more than 100 parts PERC per million (PPM). The maximum PPM is 300. In addition to these federally regulated limits, facilities need to have the right protective gear on hand.

Industrial-grade latex and nitrile gloves protect workers who handle PERC, and face masks should be used to minimize exposure. AMMEX N95 Cone Masks are rated N95 by NIOSH, ensuring a high level of protection for employees.

Stay tuned for our next installment on lacquer thinner.