We host our annual #NotWithoutGloves social media contest for several reasons: to have a bit of fun with our followers and to highlight the need for disposable glove use. While many contest submissions focus on dirty jobs and rank substances no one chooses to touch without gloves, there are more dangerous substances that require disposable gloves – chemicals. Workers in the dry cleaning industry need to be particularly careful as they come into frequent contact with a harsh chemical called perchloroethylene.
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 chemical-based products.
Employees that work in dry cleaning facilities and textile manufacturing are likely to be exposed to PERC according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
What’s the risk of dry cleaning chemicals?
PERC is the most common solvent used in dry cleaning which makes the serious health risks it poses to workers even more concerning. If employees regularly breathe in vapors or their skin comes into contact with the substance they can experience a variety of side effects; 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 many types of cancer. 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 that is when chemically contaminated air is most likely to be circulated. In addition, removing clothes before a cycle is finished, transferring items, cleaning lint traps and changing solvent filters all can expose employees to this harsh chemical.
How can 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 Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has workplace regulations in place to limit PERC exposure. Employers should adhere to these regulations in order to protect their workers. Part of adhering to these regulations is having the right protective gear on hand.
Industrial-grade latex and nitrile gloves protect workers who handle PERC from skin contact and face masks can minimize respiratory exposure. It is important to ensure the face masks employees are using are rated N95 by NIOSH to ensure a high level of protection for employees.