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City helps cleaners upgrade

Jackson Bell

In response to a decision by the South Coast Air Quality Management

District to ban a toxic chemical widely used by dry cleaners, the

city of Burbank will help local businesses ease the transition to

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more environmentally friendly technology by offering cash incentives.

Last month, the City Council approved a program by which Burbank

Water and Power will offer $2,000 grants to the first five dry

cleaners that replace existing equipment that uses perchloroethylene,

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the banned chemical, with new equipment that runs on carbon dioxide

or hydrocarbon.

When the air quality district announced its decision in December

to ban perchloroethylene -- also known as perc -- in Los Angeles

County and three other counties by 2020, the district offered to

reimburse dry cleaners between $5,000 and $20,000 to upgrade existing

equipment.

To be eligible for city grants, dry cleaners must first sign up

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for AQMD incentives. So far, 11 dry cleaners in Burbank that use the

toxic chemical have yet to make the switch.

“There are a lot of challenges in the dry-cleaning business with

its small profit margins and competitiveness,” BWP General Manager

Ron Davis said. “Taking away their main cleaning methods makes it

even harder. That’s why we’ve decided to give the grants.”

Additionally, Davis said the city would pay up to 25% of the cost

if dry-cleaning businesses buy energy-efficient machinery. Davis’

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primary concern, however, lies with perchloroethylene contaminating

the local water supply.

Pompom Ganguli, the air district’s public advisor, said the

potential health threat from the toxic chemical is substantial.

“A large dry cleaner, for example, poses a larger health risk than

an oil refinery,” Ganguli said.

The cost to update dry- cleaning equipment can range from about

$50,000 to $150,000 depending on the type of machinery, he said.

John Waralian, who owns Gilbert Cleaners on North Glenoaks

Boulevard, has worked in the dry-cleaning industry for 21 years.

While he said he disagrees with the air district’s ruling, he

appreciates the city’s offer to help to pay for updated equipment.

“The ban will affect my pocketbook because I can’t sell the old

machine and I have to get a new one,” he said. “If I can get $22,000

to replace a perc machine, I will consider replacing it sooner.”

Mike Boyagin, manager of One Price Cleaners on San Fernando

Road, said his employer will continue to use what he called

“state-of-the-art” machinery for at least 15 more years, despite the

grant offer.

“It’s not an issue for us at the moment because our machine is

like the Mercedes-Benz of [dry cleaners],” Boyagin said. “It’s a

problem when machines are leaking perc into the ground and soil.”


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