"You can smell it. And the dust comes out. After they clean the clothes they have to call a hazardous waste company to come and pick up their waste."
High levels of Perc can cause cancer. That's why the state Air Resources Board approved a phase-out of the solvent back in 2007. Under those rules, starting today, dry cleaning businesses must stop using Perc machines that were built before 1995. Newer machines must be removed by 2023.
Lee converted to a new water-based system called "wet cleaning" which uses environmentally friendly detergents.
"I love it. The clothes come out cleaner."
But not all dry cleaners are making the switch…at least not yet. Lynnette Watterson owns Crystal Cleaning Center in San Mateo.
"I am not one of the cleaners who has the July 1st deadline."
That's because Watterson…who says Perc is the best method of dry cleaning clothes…bought a new Perc machine in 2007 right before the state rules took effect.
"And so by purchasing a machine in 2007 I can and plan to use this same solvent until 2023 in concurrence with the ruling."
"I would say the Air Board has been gentle with the dry cleaning industry."
Bill Magavern is the director of Sierra Club California. He's critical of the Air Resources Board's decision to let dry cleaners with newer machines hang on to them for another 13 years.
"Dry cleaners should have seen a long time ago that Perc was toxic and should not have invested in new Perc machines. The dry cleaners were very vocal in opposing a phase out of Perc and I think they were heard."
The newer, non-Perc machines aren't cheap. Prices can range from about 40-thousand to 140-thousand dollars. And that's why Dimitri Stanich with the state Air Resources Board says they're just trying to make it easier for dry cleaners struggling in the current economy to make the switch.
"The Air Resources Board had been asked to give a little bit more time to some of those businesses that in good faith efforts have been trying to replace these machines but are finding it economically challenging to do so."
Meanwhile, dry cleaning businesses that have older machines and can't comply with the new requirements may face stiff fines and may even be forced to close.