I-Team: Dry cleaners go "green"

I-Team: Dry cleaners go "green"

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ATLANTA -

Wherever you go, you can see businesses these days going "green." We carry recycled grocery bags, buy organic food and wear eco-friendly clothes.

Even the dry cleaning industry, known for using hazardous chemicals, has started going green. But is it as advertised?

Good old-fashioned soap and water doesn't always do the job. Sometimes the only way to get certain fabrics clean is a chemical bath at the dry cleaner. For a long time the industry dipped your shirts and slacks in "perchloroethylene" better known as "perc."

"It's a known carcinogen. It's a ground water contaminant," said Peter Sinsheimer, UCLA Green Products Expert.

It's just not good for us, says Peter Sinsheimer, a UCLA professor who studies dry cleaning chemicals and their environmental impact. The industry is moving away from perc and now advertises more "green methods."

You see it all over metro Atlanta. A perfect example is in the city's Morningside neighborhood. The FOX 5 I-Team found in a three-block stretch, three dry cleaners. Two of them advertise they're "non-toxic" cleaners. On hidden camera, they even take it further.

Two shops told us they got rid of perc and now use another cleaning method. It's a hydrocarbon process, but is it "eco-friendly?"

Cindy Liebus at the Federal Trade Commission says that phrase doesn't actually mean anything.

"So, when you see the term green in an advertisement or on someone's shop it doesn't really mean that they are safer or less toxic," said Cindy Liebus, Atlanta FTC.

But she says "organic" and "non-toxic" do mean something. And Peter Sinsheimer says those words don't fit with hydrocarbon, a petroleum-based solvent.

He says the chemical is actually a "toxin" and "flammable." The EPA labels it an "air pollutant."

So what's wrong with calling hydrocarbon cleaning organic? Well, if you were in chemistry class, then sure, carbon is an organic compound. But most consumers think of organic to mean chemical-free, which it's not.

"If you're looking for something organic that is environmentally-friendly, then hydrocarbon is not what you're going to be looking for," said Sinsheimer.

Greenwashing, making green claims that don't hold up, is a nationwide issue. Environmental officials in Santa Monica, California sanctioned dry cleaners for making green claims they couldn't prove.

Then the industry jumped in. A trade newsletter warned dry cleaners against using phrases like "organic" and "non-toxic." "Be careful," it says "...of the advertising you use and the message you are sending."

"We want to be providing accurate information to consumer so they can make the best choice possible for themselves," said Sinsheimer.

Watch FOX 5 I-Team Dana Fowle's full report by clicking on the video above

Additional resources:

- US Environmental Protection Agency
- Green America
- The Reclaimer: Dry Cleaners Who Care

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