Mpls. dry cleaner upgrades after toxic chemical leak

MINNEAPOLIS - A dry cleaner found to be leaking a toxic cleaning chemical into neighboring businesses, including a daycare, is getting help from the city of Minneapolis to eliminate the air quality concerns.

At U.S. Cleaners, the normal sounds of business have competition. The store is now a construction zone "Watch our height. Think we're ok," yelled workers as they removed a large piece of equipment from the store.

"I'm really upset," said store owner Ausdel Carrera "I thought I bought a good business and could make it better."

He bought the store from the previous owner 5 years ago, and recently got news of the worst kind. Air testing done by health inspectors showed 80,000 micro-grams per cubic meter of a toxic chemical known as "perc." Its full name is perchloroethylene and the neurotoxin is the main chemical solvent used in the dry cleaning process, although efforts have been underway for sometime to phase it out. Base line levels in a commercial space are 60 micro-grams per cubic meter, any more than that over a prolonged period can lead to health concerns.

What's perhaps most alarming is the toxic chemical was seeping through walls and into neighboring businesses in the strip mall where U.S. Cleaners is located. One of those businesses is Rise 'n Shine Childcare, a daycare catering to Somali families, with about 180 students.

Patrick Hanlon, with the Minneapolis Health Department said they found perc levels at around 400 micro grams per cubic meter.

Philsan Ismael is the daycare director and tells KARE 11that while the Health Department assured them there was not an immediate risk to the children, some of the parents were going to leave because of the problem.

While the dry cleaners made every effort to contain the problem, sealing the walls inside the store and making repairs to the machines that used the chemical, air levels of perc remained too high. The owner says luckily for him, the city of Minneapolis approached him with an offer of a $30,000 grant to replace his old perc using machines with new greener technology. He jumped at the chance, despite having to take out a loan to cover the rest of nearly $100,000 price tag.

Minneapolis 12th Ward Council Member Andrew Johnson said "We'd like to see all dry cleaners in Minneapolis make the switch so we can be perk- free." There are currently nine other businesses in the city still using perc in the cleaning process.

At U.S. Cleaners, the new non-perc machines will be up and running by Monday. The City Health Department plans to meet with parents and staff at the daycare to update them on the process next Tuesday.


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