Upstairs from Snow White Cleaners in the Richmond District, Holly Ray and her young son Elliott sit in the family room of their Edwardian apartment breathing in unhealthy concentrations of a toxic chemical.
On the patio outside, where the concentration is much higher, Holly Ray can smell the sweet-scented perchloroethylene - a solvent used by an estimated 950 Bay Area dry cleaners."The vapors come out of their door directly into our patio, especially if it's windy," said Holly Ray. "It's like a wind channel."
Perchloroethylene, a chlorinated solvent, can cause cancer and damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.
Although often apartment residents can't smell it indoors, air monitoring has shown that the chemical can migrate from dry cleaners through construction material and crawl spaces into dwellings several stories above.
Snow White is in compliance with current regulations and has never been cited for violating pollution laws. But in contaminating nearby residences, it's typical of the 100 dry cleaners in the Bay Area, mainly in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, that are under apartment buildings, air quality officials say.
Over the next several months, those dry cleaners will have to comply with the toughest new set of air quality rules in the nation, including the only requirement in the country to encase dry-cleaning equipment in a vapor-proof box. The deadline is April 1997.
"We feel that dry cleaners in apartment buildings pose a significant risk," said Brian Bateman, manager of the toxics evaluation section for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "Even the best machines have some emissions," he said. "Our new rule requires them to contain the perchloroethylene and ventilate it."