North Carolina Dry Cleaning Business Caused 40 Years of Contamination in Neighborhood

A former dry cleaning site in Durham, NC is still posing a toxic contamination risk nearly 40 years after it shut down.

One-Hour Martinizing Cleaners was located at 1103 W. Club Blvd from 1963 to 1975, but it wasn’t until 1993 that subsurface contamination was discovered resulting from the chemicals used for dry cleaning.

Before the invention of the Martinizing process, which became popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s, dry cleaners used flammable solvents, which had to be used far away from populated areas. The invention of Martinizing chemicals allowed dry cleaning to be done within one hour in town rather than being sent away to a separate dry cleaning plant.

But with the popularity of chemicals like PERC, also called PCE or tetrachloroethylene, and other dry cleaning solvents came pollution caused by the substance’s runoff.

And those chemicals have lingered in the soil. The 2,925-square-foot building where the dry cleaning business was housed had to be demolished in 2011 to prevent continued contamination of nearby soil and groundwater.

Hart & Hickman, which specializes in groundwater remediation services, sampled groundwater in April and found that the water still contains higher levels of PCE than recommended. This was 15 months after the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved of an EHC injection, which is used to decrease the amount of toxins found in groundwater.

Groundwater provides drinking water for about half of all Americans and makes up 95% of the country’s freshwater sources. But when it becomes contaminated with chemicals, like those used by dry cleaning businesses all over the country, then it can cause serious problems for those who are drinking that water.

Long-term exposure to PERC can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys and even lead to cancer. These problems have likely affected those living in Durham’s Trinity Park neighborhood if they’ve been exposed to the chemical.

So far, Hart & Hickman has reported that the PERC in the monitoring wells nearby has decreased by somewhere between 86% and 98% through remediation efforts. However, two wells still have more than 2.5 mg/L of PERC, and even though levels haven’t increased, they are still higher than recommended.

Several units in the Trinity Park area no longer face contamination, but two residences on Dollar Avenue and the Triangle Family Church are still affected. Remediation efforts will be ongoing through next year and will include another EHC injection to reduce the amount of PERC in the soil.

So far more than $2.2 million has been spent on remediation for the area. Officials have met with the public in recent weeks to let them know about the remediation process.

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