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The vultures are circling

Ntl Academy of Sciences signNo, this isn't a promo for an upcoming National Geographic special. It's a comment about personal injury lawyers and dry cleaners.

You've seen the late night TV ads: If you or a loved one have such and such disease or have been taking such and such drug, you need to immediately contact the law firm of Shyster and Shark.

It appears that personal injury lawyers may have tired of chasing ambulances. Now they're salivating at the thought of targeting dry cleaners who clean in perchloroethylene (aka perc) or who have cleaned in perc in the past. Especially in the light of a report by the National Academy of Sciences in February 2010 labeling perc a "likely human carcinogen."

Here's some background ...

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested that perc be classified as a "likely human carcinogen."  Moreover, the EPA found that perc's most dangerous noncancer effect is brain and nervous system damage and set safe exposure levels well below levels that cause such damage.

But rather than finalize the ruling, the EPA asked the National Academy of Sciences to review it's perc risk analysis and to confirm that it's system for analyzing chemical risk was correct.

In February 2010, the National Academy of Sciences reported that the EPA was basically correct. The Academy agreed that:

  • The EPA's system for evaluating chemical risk was basically sound, although procedures for evaluating the strength of relevant studies needed to be strengthened.
  • Perc is a "likely human carcinogen." This means that while there's no definitive proof that the chemical causes cancer in humans, there's strong evidence that it does.
  • Perc's most dangerous noncancer effect is brain and nerve system damage. The report recommended that safe exposure levels for drinking water and air quality be set well above the levels that can cause such damage.

In the light of the report by the National Academy of Sciences, the personal injury lawyers are drooling at the mouth. Their approach is predictable: locate an area that, according to federal and state environmental authorities, has high concentrations of perc in the soil and water, identify cleaners who are operating or have operated in that area, and search for individuals who've lived in that area for many years and who display health issues symptomatic of exposure to high concentrations of perc.

Then, bring it all together in a lawsuit and hope that the cleaner has great insurance coverage.

P.S. At RAVE FabriCARE, we don't dry clean in perc.

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