Are PFAS a Drycleaning Problem?



If you have not heard of Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Perfluorooctyl Sulfonate (PFOS) and other perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) yet, you will soon. For brevity, we will refer to these groups generically as PFAS plural. PFAS are a broad group of chemicals widely used in manufacturing and found widespread in the environment. The 2019 movie Dark Waters starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway featured one of the first and highest-profile lawsuits regarding PFAS. PFAS are emerging contaminants that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is attempting to regulate. Some states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, and New Jersey have gotten out in front of the USEPA and have established state regulatory limits for a small number of the more commonly used compounds.  

First, the “what”: PFAS are part of a broad chemical group first developed in the 1940s. Since then, manufacturers have introduced over 4,000 PFAS compounds into the production of consumer goods both as primary and secondary components. Some of these compounds are being phased out due to toxicity concerns; however, manufacturers are developing new fluorinated compounds like Gen X and ADONA to replace them. Many PFAS are banned from use and import in manufactured goods in the United States. 

Well known for their unique chemical properties, PFAS repel oil and water and resist temperature, chemicals, and fire. These are the attributes that make PFAS attractive and are why so many durable industrial and everyday products like non-stick surfaces, firefighting foam as a flame retardant, stain resistant fabrics, water repellent coatings, and plating demisters contain PFAS. 

The chemistry is complex because PFAS are not one chemical compound; they are a class of chemical compounds that share the common carbon-fluorine bond. The carbon to fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry, making PFAS compounds particularly resistant to degradation and therefore cleanup. Since they do not break down and they have widespread use, they are being found everywhere in the environment.   

The USEPA advisories in the May 25, The USEPA first announced PFAS health advisories in the May 25, 2016 Federal Register. Since then, numerous updates and significant research has been published by USEPA, State Agencies, and private researchers. After which, State regulatory agencies began pushing primary and secondary industries into investigate for PFAS. To date, most of the investigations and cleanups have centered on both the manufacturers of PFAS compounds and military airports. The three general sources of PFAS impact on the environment include:    

  • Primary: Manufactures of PFAS Compounds  
  • Secondary: Manufactures of Items with PFAS or direct use of PFAS compounds  
  • Tertiary: Use/Disposal of PFAS containing products  

The manufacturers of the PFAS compounds generally include the large chemical manufacturers that have been the subject of much regulatory scrutiny and private litigation. The secondary group includes all the industrial and commercial processes that directly applied these chemicals to products or processed materials previously coated. Dry cleaners that offered the application of stain-resistant coatings containing PFAS fall within this second group but also fall within the third group.    

The third group is comprised of all consumer and commercial use and disposal of PFAS treated products. The potential for PFAS impacts to the environment from this third group is probably least understood. This third group is where dry cleaning may have its most significant exposure for PFAS impacts since dry cleaning byproducts (spent solvent, lint, still bottoms, etc.) have had contact with PFAS containing textiles.  

We know historically dry cleaners accidentally released solvents to the environment, but how much PFAS were in these spent solvents? Studies from Toronto University have shown fast fashion items contain high levels of PFAS and other contaminants at levels that cannot be coincidental. When these PFAS laden clothes are washed, PFAS can accumulate in the various waste streams and mechanical vents at dry cleaners. Additional studies show that cosmetics also contain high levels of PFAS. Clothing with cosmetics stains may also contribute to low level accumulation of PFAS in facilities that would concentrate wastes. That is to say, dry cleaners, through filtration processes, concentrate PFAS, which may then enter the environment incidentally near waste storage and vent discharge points at dry cleaning and laundry facilities.   

Learn more about testing for PFAS and the available remediation methods  

The Florida PFAS study evaluated both virgin and spent dry cleaning products from seven (7) Florida dry cleaning facilities. Virgin cleaning products at two of the seven facilities contained detectable concentrations of PFAS. One facility had a small detection of PFAS in a dry-cleaning machine cleaner and the other facility had a more substantial detection in a virgin petroleum-based solvent mixed with soap. Some virgin dry cleaning products do contain PFAS. The take-away message for you is to ask your chemical supplier for details on what is in your incoming products.   

PFAS were detected in dry cleaning wastes (spent solvents, solids, filters) in six out of seven of the facilities tested. PFAS compounds on treated fabrics clearly come off the fabrics during the cleaning process and are concentrated in the resultant waste products. Although use of some of these compounds have been phased out years ago, you can probably expect to see this continue for a while.   

The Florida study went even further and evaluated PFAS in virgin and spent products from seven wet laundry facilities. One out of four laundry detergents contained PFAS at relatively low levels. However, PFAS were detected in every wastewater discharge sample analyzed.   PFAS clearly come from treated clothing even during a wet laundry process, although to a lesser extent than from dry cleaning. One interesting finding of the study that speaks to the ubiquitous nature of PFAS is that they were detected at low concentrations in the incoming potable water at most of these facilities.   

In the Florida study, ten sites with known dry cleaning solvent contamination (chlorinated and petroleum based) were evaluated. Eight of these sites had undergone some level of remediation. Samples of soil and groundwater were collected and submitted for analytical testing for 28 PFAS and GenX compounds. PFAS compounds were detected in groundwater at all ten sites. While the presence of PFAS seemed to correlate to the presence of PCE there was little correlation between concentrations of PFAS and PCE. This is likely due to how these compounds behave in the environment.  

The study did identify four sites where it appears there was PFAS entering the site from an off-site source. Again, given PFAS widespread use and their propensity to not degrade, this is not entirely unexpected. However, even at these four sites, there was evidence of PFAS contribution due to the releases of dry cleaning products.   

Similar results were seen in soil samples collected and submitted for laboratory analysis.  Although all the soil sample detections were below levels deemed safe by Florida for direct exposure, they were above levels that have the potential to impact groundwater above safe levels.   

Dry cleaners inadvertently introduce PFAS compounds through the chemicals they use. Going forward it’s important that dry cleaners document the PFAS content of incoming chemicals from your suppliers and if possible avoid PFAS containing products. What is clear is that the dry cleaning process itself introduces PFAS into your waste streams by extracting them off of the stain-resistant garments. How big of a problem this will be for the dry cleaning industry is unknown as the science and regulatory framework surrounding PFAS is evolving.   

Should someone ask you to sample for PFAS compounds at your site, what should your response be? First and foremost, your response should be a cautious one made with input from a qualified consultant and potentially legal counsel. It should be clear under what authority the demand is being made and what some of the ramifications might be should PFAS be found on your property. If the decision is made to proceed, you will want to consider:  

  1. What PFAS compounds am I being asked to sample for? 
  2. What analytical methods will be acceptable to the entity asking for these results? 
  3. To what criteria will the results be compared to? 
  4. Are there other sources of PFAS surrounding my property? 
  5. Will my consultant control the accidental introduction of PFAS into environmental samples?   
  6. What are the consequences of not responding?  
  7. Is any of this data confidential? 

Currently, it is difficult to say what will be required should you discover a release. One thing that is certain is that the cleanup of a PFAS release, to likely very low cleanup standards, will not be easy. The amount of research into PFAS cleanup being conducted at this time by commercial and private companies is staggering. Promising interim technologies are being developed by the not-for-profit Batelle research organization and others. It is likely that the best solution will present itself in a technology yet unknown to us at this time.  

Because of PFAS chemical structure, they are recalcitrant and do not lend themselves to many of the chemical and biological processes traditionally employed to remediate dry cleaning solvent plumes. Research is being conducted but as of now, there are few in place options for soil and groundwater remediation. The physical removal of the compounds from soil and groundwater is, for now, likely the best remediation option. Excavation of soil and the pumping and treating of groundwater are two ways of physically removing PFAS from the environment. Physical removal of these compounds creates waste products that need ultimate disposal. Heat destruction of these waste products offers promising results; however, the temperatures required are difficult to achieve and economically unsustainable. 

Find out why PFAS are so difficult to remediate, and why they’re known as “forever chemicals” 

The Florida study indicates that PFAS may well be an issue at drycleaner cleanup sites. Prior to implementing any sampling efforts that may put you in the liability hot seat, make sure you are thoroughly engaged with a consultant and legal counsel that can outline your options.   

The USEPA will within the next two years establish certain PFAS as a hazardous substance, which will make it easier for them to regulate. Without the hazardous substance designation from the EPA, investigations and remediation vary by State. PFAS sampling is more expensive than traditional environmental sampling and because the remedial options are limited and the regulatory framework is still up in the air, your long-term costs and liabilities are difficult to predict.  

Contact us with your questions about PFAS 

As seen in Cleaner & Launderer

Brad Lewis, CHMM, Principal Scientist
Brad Lewis is a detailed-oriented and collaborative environmental professional with over 24 years of environmental consulting experience. Brad has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and is a Certified Hazardous Material Manager (CHMM) with expertise that covers a variety of projects ranging from due diligence, environmental compliance, Brownfields, underground storage tank, and chlorinated hydrocarbon investigations and cleanups.  Because of his strong analytical chemistry background, Brad has implemented many innovative site investigation strategies including the use of mobile laboratory, and immuno-assay to characterize sites. Brad is a member of the Midwestern States Environmental Consultants (MSECA) organization and took part in MSECA’s work group advising the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) on revisions to the Remediation Program Guide. 

Brad manages large chlorinated hydrocarbon sites with large, deep, groundwater plumes that impact overburden, bedrock, and surface water resources.  To these projects he brings a keen understanding of contaminant fate and transport and an ability to develop a thorough conceptual site model.  This includes development of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional visualizations of site lithology, hydrogeology and plume characteristics. 

He provides strategic planning of the technical and regulatory approach on most EnviroForensic projects.  This includes evaluation of new and innovative remedial technologies and changing regulatory and business climates. Brad facilitates communications between the responsible party, project managers, counsel, regulators, and the affected residences.    

Rob Hoverman, LPG, Northern Midwest Regional Director
Rob Hoverman is the Northern Midwest Regional Director and a registered professional geologist with more than 19 years of professional environmental services with a focus on contaminated site management. Rob currently serves as senior project manager for several projects in Indiana and Wisconsin.  His diversified professional experience includes research, scoping and budgeting, project management, data analysis and interpretation for both hazardous and non-hazardous substances, including compounds such as chlorinated solvents, petroleum-related constituents, as well as metals. Rob has managed numerous investigation and remediation projects regulated by state programs, and his responsibilities involved every aspect of projects from proposal preparation through project closure, regulatory negotiations and stakeholder communications.  Beyond technical evaluation and interpretation duties include obtaining contract approval, job initiation, budgetary analysis, budget tracking, and subcontractor contracting and management. Rob has also served as technical support for numerous vapor intrusion including soil gas, sub-slab, indoor air sampling and mitigation.  As the Regional Director for EnviroForensics, Rob maintains momentum and resources for Wisconsin projects.   

Toxic Substance Control Act: Perchloroethylene (PCE) & Trichloroethylene (TCE) Risk Evaluation and Management



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is currently assessing additional restrictions to the most common chemicals in the drycleaning industry: perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE). Here we will review why risk management for these chemicals is being re-evaluated and how their management could potentially be affected.

Most of our clients store and use PCE and TCE in their daily operations, so when the U.S. EPA sends out notices that they will be evaluating the health risks of these chemicals under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), we pay special attention on behalf of our clientele. TSCA has banned most uses of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and significantly restricted asbestos and lead-based paint, which has led to their general discontinuation in market use. This has also led to a significant increase in disposal management efforts and costs for chemicals included in TSCA restrictions. The outcome of the U.S. EPA assessment in the next two years could significantly change the production, storage, transport, use, and disposal of cleaning products that contain PCE and TCE.

TSCA was initially established in 1976 as the nation’s primary chemicals management law and provided the U.S. EPA with authority to require reporting, record-keeping, testing, and restrictions of specific chemical substances that were determined to pose a risk to human health or the environment.

A brief history of TSCA:

  • Title I: The initial act in 1976 concentrated on chemical inventory, expectations that industry would lead testing of manufactured chemicals, banned most uses of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and significantly restricted mercury. 
  • Title II: In 1986, the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act was amended to TSCA to require schools to test for asbestos and development management plans. Though TSCA does not provide a ban on asbestos, the known health hazards and negative connotation of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were sufficient to prompt an industry trend to avoid asbestos-containing products and for facilities to abate ACMs when found.  
  • Title III: In 1988, the Radon Program Development Act was amended to TSCA to provide states financial and technical support in monitoring and controlling radon.   
  • Title IV: In 1992, the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act was amended to TSCA. Again, this title did not ban lead-based paint, but promotion of negative health effects and guidelines for protecting the public from lead-based paint was sufficient to change the paint supply market.  
  • Title V: In 1990, the Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act was amended to TSCA set up State programs to provide technical assistance to schools in developing environmental health programs to address contaminants and hazardous substances encountered in school building construction.   
  • Title VI: In 2010, the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act was amended to TSCA. This title restricted the emissions concentration of formaldehyde from processed lumber products, changing the internal process within the industry but not affecting the end sales and products generated.  

As demonstrated in Titles I, II, IV, and VI above, rules enacted under TSCA can have variable effects on their relative industries. In addition to the major Title sections reviewed above, there have been numerous small amendments to TSCA that have added restrictions to chemicals in various industries.  

The most recent TSCA amendment in June 2016 required the identification and assessment of high-priority chemicals. The chemical risk assessment process consists of three steps: prioritization, risk evaluation, and risk management. In December 2016, PCE and TCE were identified by the U.S. EPA as high-priority chemicals for review under the TSCA. The U.S. EPA released the Risk Evaluation for Trichloroethylene (TCE Risk Report) in November 2020, and the Risk Evaluation for Perchloroethylene (Ethene, 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloro-) (PCE Risk Report) on December 20, 2020. The U.S. EPA is currently assessing an applicable and appropriate risk management approach for both compounds.

The health risks identified in the PCE Risk Report and TCE Risk Report list acute exposures including neurotoxicity and chronic exposures including neurotoxicity, kidney, liver, immune system and developmental effects, and liver cancer. The PCE Risk Report reviewed 61 conditions of use and identified 59 that represent an unreasonable risk of injury to human health based on those health risks. Similarly, the TCE Risk Report reviewed 54 conditions of use and identified 52 that represent an unreasonable risk of injury to human health based on those health risks. In general, the conditions of use included: manufacturing, import, processing, repackaging, recycling, degreasing, lubricants, adhesives, paints, coatings, automotive care products, metal and stone polishes, welding, textile processing, furniture manufacturing, foundry application, and various dry cleaning-related uses.

The U.S. EPA’s next step will be to initiate risk management actions for these identified conditions of use to reduce or eliminate the risks. The U.S. EPA has initially identified the following categories where regulations could possibly be implemented to reduce risks through operational prohibition or limitation:

  • Manufacturing
  • Processing
  • Distribution
  • Use
  • Disposal

The upcoming risk management action consists of Environmental Justice Consultations for PCE and TCE with the U.S. EPA on on June 16, 2021 and July 6, 2021. These consultations will be opportunities for stakeholders to express environmental justice concerns. The U.S. EPA will also have additional consultations with small businesses and state and local governments in the future.

TSCA has been used to limit or eliminate the production, importation, use, and disposal of more than 83,000 chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), radon, asbestos, various solvents, and lead-based paint. These past restrictions have had various secondary effects on businesses, notably increasing environmental management and disposal costs. Beyond the potential changes to solvent use in the drycleaning industry, new TSCA rules could affect the environmental management costs associated with contaminated media (concrete, soil, groundwater, and vapors) from the accidental release of solvents, even if a facility changes to cleaner alternatives. 

The future limits on PCE are undefined at this time but could be similar to the near-total ban that was applied to PCBs and asbestos, or the U.S. EPA could place limited restrictions on the use or concentration of PCE; there are also various other restriction potentials that could be applied. The U.S. EPA has up to two years following the release of the risk reports to address, by rule, the identified risks. Therefore, draft regulations for TCE should be anticipated in November 2022, and draft regulations for PCE should be anticipated by December 2022.

Contact us to learn more about our regulatory compliance services.

Scott Powell, PE, Senior Project Manager
R. Scott Powell is a Senior Project Manager with over 20 years of environmental consulting experience. Powell’s expertise covers a wide variety of projects ranging from due diligence, LUST/petroleum, hazardous material remediation, asbestos, lead-based paint, remedial actions, to remedial systems. He manages complex relationships fostering the cohesive involvement of several parties on multiple sites with co-mingled contaminant plumes requiring the implementation of remedial solutions for chlorinated solvents, hazardous materials, and petroleum hydrocarbon impacts. He has extensive experience with environmental regulatory compliance, including Clean Water Act (CWA), Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA), Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA), Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), and Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA). Powell manages negotiations with state and federal regulatory agencies, provides litigation support in matters concerning environmental issues, and acts as a third-party reviewer of work performed by others.

Nicholas Hill, LPG, Senior Project Manager
Nicholas Hill has 12+ years of experience with environmental consulting for investigation and remediation projects regulated by state programs, primarily involving chlorinated solvent and petroleum impacts. Hill’s experience as a Senior Project Manager includes research, preparation of work plans and reports, project and budget management, geologic and hydrogeologic data collection, data analysis and interpretation, feasibility study, design, and implementation of various remediation technologies to treat soil, groundwater, and vapor contamination, and coordination of regulatory closure. Hill has implemented and reported numerous Phase I environmental site assessments in accordance with ASTM standards. In addition, Hill has assessed vapor intrusion exposure conditions through soil and sub-slab vapor and indoor air sampling and conducted oversight and monitoring of vapor mitigation system installation.


What is the chemical nature of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds?



The 2019 release of the film Dark Waters told the true story of the legal action taken by a farmer and an attorney to hold DuPont accountable for damages allegedly caused by perfluoroalkyl compounds, otherwise known as the forever chemicals. But even without this movie, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) compounds have been in the news. What are PFAS and why is there so much attention on them? PFAS are a family of diverse chemical compounds developed in the 1940s, that were found to be useful in a wide range of commercial products including water and stain repellent coatings on cookware, firefighting foams, and in industrial applications for cardboard coatings, and mist suppression for metal plating to name a few. Many industries include textile and leather manufactures, paper manufactures, metal plating industries, wire manufacturing, industrial surfactants, photo-lithography, airports, and firefighting, were quick to incorporate these compounds into their processes. So why are PFAS an evolving issue? The short answer is:

  • Their widespread use in industrial and consumer products;
  • Their suspected toxicity (very low proposed cleanup standards);
  • Their persistence in the environment; and
  • Their resistance to treatment technologies.

PFAS present a challenge to industry, regulators and scientists who are racing to understand the significance of these compounds in the environment. This is an emerging situation and work is proceeding on multiple fronts to address the concerns.

There are six things that must be considered when figuring out how to address PFAS:

  1. Evaluation of emerging toxicology data
  2. Evaluation of developing testing methods
  3. Evaluation of developing cleanup methods
  4. Developing regulations
  5. Understanding how prevalent these compounds are
  6. Under fate and transport in the environment

To learn more, read “What are PFAS compounds and how can we test for them?”

Although there are thousands of PFAS compounds, at their core, they are characterized by having carbon and fluorine bonds, one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. These compounds come in various carbon chain lengths, which effect the fate and transport in the environment, their resonance time in the food chain, and ultimately the human body and their subsequent cleanup criteria. Once you understand the nomenclature, you can tell a lot from the compounds name. Two of the most manufactured PFAS compounds were perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

PFOS      PF (Perfluoro=fully fluorinated carbons) O (Octa or 8 carbon chain) S (Sulfonic Acid)


PFOA     PF (Perfluoro=fully fluorinated carbons) O (Octa or 8 carbon chain) A (Carboxcylic Acid)


Like the compounds above, most PFAS compounds have a hydrophilic head (acid, alcohol, etc.) and a hydrophobic tail (carbon-fluoride chain). This dual nature of the compounds imparts much of the non-stick, water repellant, stain repellant properties that made them so useful in industrial applications. The carbon-fluoride bonds make PFAS compounds incredibly stable and resistant to breakdown. Hence the name “forever chemicals”. Most organic compounds would break down in a landfill, be degraded by natural bacteria, or be treated by a wastewater treatment plant, whereas PFAS compounds are generally resistant to these degradation processes. These compounds pass through most treatment systems intact to be discharged back into the environment. Their widespread use in products and their resistance to breakdown (or treatment) means that they may be widespread in the environment. While we do not know how prevalent these compounds are in the environment, we do know that wherever we look for PFAS, we are finding them.

Learn more about how federal and state governments are regulating PFAS for drycleaners and other small businesses.

The toxicological data indicates that low level concentrations of some PFAS compounds may affect liver function, impede immunological response, promote developmental effects, decrease fertility, increase hypertension and potentially cause testicular and kidney cancers. The toxicity of PFOS and PFOA are probably the most studied and most understood. However, the chemical toxicity for a majority of PFAS and GenX (PFAS replacement chemicals) compounds have not been studied. Early indications are that most cleanup levels for these compounds will be in the one part per trillion-part (ppt) range, which is equivalent to one ping pong ball in a sea of a trillion ping pong balls.

If you have any questions about PFAS, including the chemistry, regulations, remediation or how to fund PFAS cleanup and legal defense, please contact us

The low cleanup levels come with their own set of challenges. How do you test for one part per trillion (ppt) of a compound in a water sample when the notebook, raincoat or sunscreen your personnel is wearing was manufactured with PFAs? The answer is you must be careful and beware of false positives. Currently there are two validated USEPA analytical methods SW 846 Method 537.1 and Method 533, both of which are for drinking water. There are no adopted USEPA methods for non-drinking water and soil, although modified methods do exist.  Analytical methods still need to be developed and commercial laboratories will need to invest in equipment and processes to analyze this emerging contaminant. Currently there are a limited number of laboratories qualified to test for PFAs.

The regulatory environment for PFAs is a patchwork, as some states have been quick to establish a regulatory framework while most are waiting for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to take the lead. Several states have gotten out in front of the USEPA and have either tested water supply wells like Michigan or are beginning to require contaminated sites to include PFAs on their analyte lists. To date, the USEPA has concentrated on two of the most manufactured PFA compounds, PFOS and PFOA. While the USEPA is concentrating on a smaller subset of the PFA compounds, some states like Wisconsin are requiring evaluation of a much larger number (16) of PFA compounds at sites.

The U.S. EPA currently has a task group which is evaluating the PFAs issue. One of the first hurdles of this task group is to set drinking water maximum contaminate levels (MCLs) that will apply to suppliers of potable water. These drinking water standards are expected to be published in 2021 or 2022. This will mean that any supplier of water from groundwater or surface water source will begin testing for these compounds and if found will need to treat them. Similar testing of water supply wells in some states have led to the identification of PFA release sites.

More important to you perhaps is what do you do if a regulating entity asks you to sample your site for PFAs? Before you respond, there are some questions you need to ask yourself.

  • Under what authority is the regulator requiring PFAs testing?
  • Specifically, which of the PFAs chemicals are you required to test for?
  • How low is the concentration we need to look for?
  • If I generate a concentration for a PFAs compound to what standards will it be compared?

What you should not do is rush into a sampling event without much consideration. Additional information regarding regulatory framework for PFAS will be provided in upcoming Blog posts.

Traditionally, environmental cleanups have involved either the physical removal of the contaminant from the environment, immobilization of contaminants and/or the biologically or chemical destruction of the contaminant in place.

Physical Contaminant Removal
PFAS can be remediated by physical removal. This entails excavation of soil and/or the pumping of groundwater followed by their concentration onto various sorbent materials.  Both processes create impacted wastes that still require disposal, storage or destruction.

While excavation is an effective way of removing soil contaminant mass, its use is often limited by depth of impacts, presence of groundwater, presence of building structures, cost effectiveness, and potential long-term liability for waste generated. Wastes placed into modern lined landfills typically decompose and combine with water to form leachate. This leachate migrates to collection systems in the bottom of the landfills, which is treated and then ultimately discharged back into the environment. Based on their stability in the environment, PFAS have the potential to migrate untreated through the landfill and through the wastewater treatment plant to be discharged back into the environment. As landfills become more cognizant of the issues surrounding PFAS there is some question as to their willingness/ability to except these waste streams. Ultimately these wastes constitute a potential long-term liability unless the contaminant is ultimately destroyed. High temperature incineration of PFAS derived wastes is one way of permanently destroying these compounds; however, there are issues of the high costs of incineration and potential for incomplete combustion of these compounds.

One industry leader TRS Group has a patent for a thermal remediation system that heats soil (in situ or ex situ) to between 350 to 400 degrees C, which drives off PFA compounds in the vapor phase. The vapor phase is recovered and then either thermally oxidized or the PFAs are condensed and treated in the aqueous phase[1].

Contaminant Immobilization
Sometimes the goal of a remediation is less about reduction of contaminants and more about ensuring that contaminants do not migrate to potential sensitive receptors. The concept of immobilizing contaminants in-place to prevent migration is nothing new and has been employed for years at sites with metal contaminants. One method that is being studied for PFAs is the injection of colloidal activated carbon (CAC) into aquifers to provide sites for PFA sorption. While the sorption mitigates the migration of contaminants to downgradient receptors, actual contaminant mass remains unaffected. The longevity of these subsurface sorption barriers and their ability to hold the PFAs indefinitely, is currently being studied.

Biological or Chemical Destruction
For cleanup of sites impacted with petroleum and/or chlorinated solvents, for years scientists and engineers have made full use of the fact that these organic compounds, are subject to both abiotic (chemical) and biotic (bacterial, fungal, etc.) mediated breakdown into less toxic byproducts. These processes, either with or without augmentation, are employed to reduce contaminant mass in place, without the need for physical removal and ex situ treatment.  These remediation techniques have become popular since they are cost effective, less disruptive to infrastructure, and do not generate legacy wastes. By their nature, PFA compounds appear to be resistant to these processes; however, the jury is still out and this an active field of research. Currently these methods are in the realm of college research papers and experimental cleanups at defense and superfund sites and are not options for most sites.

What should you do if you are potential responsible party in a PFA release? First and foremost, take a deep breath. It is important that you choose a consultant like EnviroForensics who will carefully listen to all the details of your situation and consider your potential liabilities, regulatory, financial and investigation options. With the science and regulations rapidly evolving around PFA issues, it is important to know the landscape before charging ahead. One thing is very clear however, there will be greater and greater regulation of these chemicals and their subsequent release to the environment. Hopefully, the science and technology to address these unique chemicals can developed to meet these challenges. Stay tuned for additional articles on this subject

Learn more about our environmental investigation and remediation services.

Brad Lewis, CHMM, Principal Scientist at EnviroForensics

Brad Lewis is a detailed-oriented and collaborative leader with 30+ years of environmental consulting experience that covers a variety of projects ranging from due diligence, environmental compliance, landfill, Brownfields, underground storage tank, and chlorinated hydrocarbon investigations and cleanups. As Principal Scientist, he oversees investigations and cleanups. He helps project teams set the technical and regulatory strategies that will meet their client’s goals. Lewis has implemented many innovative site investigation strategies including the use of down-hole sensing equipment, mobile laboratory, and an immunoassay to characterize sites.

He has consulted on many high-profile projects dealing with petroleum hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, hexavalent chromium, chlorinated solvents, bedrock impacts, vapor intrusion investigations, and vapor mitigation.

[1] Crownover E, Oberle D, Kluger M, Heron . Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances thermal desorption evaluation.  Remediation 2019;29:77-81

Emerging Contaminant Update: PFAS Regulations Start to Develop at State Level


Water droplets on PFAS treated glass with warm glow backlight


It’s time for an update on PFAS. In the January 2020 edition of the Cleaner & Launderer, I discussed an emerging contaminant group called fluorosurfactants, otherwise known as perflouoroalkyl substances or PFAS, in the article subtitled “PFAS is New Bad Guy in Town.” As a refresher, PFAS are a wide group of engineered chemicals originally created to lower the surface tension of water. This led to their use in commercially available water-proofing chemicals, which some dry cleaners used as a part of their service to customers. Additionally, retail versions of the waterproofing products became available to consumers. Environmental regulators hypothesize that during the commercial cleaning process, some of the PFAS from waterproofed garments and materials enter the waste solvent solution. As such, they postulate that anywhere an environmental release of drycleaning solvent to the subsurface has happened, the presence of PFAS is also possible because materials treated with related products may have been cleaned at the facility. Further, the drycleaning operations that actually performed waterproofing or leather treating are more suspect of potentially having contamination directly from garment treatment spills. I recommend rereading the January 2020 article, because I also presented the state of regulations at that time, and especially how they were impacting dry cleaners.

Read “Emerging Contaminant Alert for Dry Cleaners: PFAS is the New Bad Guy in Town!”

I sat down with Rob Hoverman, EnviroForensics Northern Midwest Regional Director located in our Wisconsin office, to talk about how the State of Wisconsin is currently addressing the potential for PFAS to be associated with environmental releases of Perc and other solvents at drycleaner sites. Rob is one of our subject matter experts on PFAS issues and is currently embroiled in this issue on behalf of our Wisconsin drycleaner clients. Wisconsin is one of the states on the leading edge of PFAS regulations, and they don’t seem to be excluding anyone from the regulation process. We’re looking at this from merely a reporting standpoint, so that we can keep you informed as the PFAS regulation process develops across the country.

For a chemical to be regulated, there needs to be an established concentration that provides a threshold by which to evaluate its release to the environment. These are commonly called screening levels. If the contaminant of concern is present at a concentration less than the screening level, then there likely is no need for cleanup action to be taken. If the contaminant is present at a concentration greater than the screening level, then the release needs to be addressed. The way this typically works is that the federal United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) creates a draft screening level based upon developing human-health based exposure studies. Once finalized, the Regional U.S. EPA offices, and subsequently, individual States use those screening levels to propose and adopt their own screening levels that are at least as stringent as the federal screening levels.

With federal screening levels still in draft form (and likely to be as such for many years), can state screening levels for PFAS be enforced? Without federal oversight and a uniform approach, the varying regulatory programs indicate the necessity to define risk, balance costs, and determine predictable remedial outcomes. This scenario is very similar to the conundrum we faced with vapor intrusion regulations ten years ago. Lack of finality at the federal level forces the states to move on their own accord using the methods they feel make the most sense. When emerging contaminants, or exposure pathways in the case of vapor intrusion, first come to light, the regulators may have a tendency to be more conservative out of an abundance of caution. I think we may be seeing some of this now with PFAS.

1. PFAS screening levels haven’t been finalized
In our case study of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) asserts authority as defined by state statute to require the development of site-specific cleanup standards by a responsible party (e.g. the drycleaner). This, in effect, creates a situation where the state regulator serves its primary objective to protect human health and the environment from this emerging contaminant (i.e. PFAS) by demanding that sites with known releases of other contaminants assess potential use, potential release whether a primary release or secondary release associated with contamination as described above. Ultimately the WDNR can require testing for the presence of PFAS. Then, it is up to the responsible party to establish a cleanup objective using screening levels that haven’t been finalized. It’s truly a difficult and frustrating scenario.

2. PFAS compounds are costly to sample and analyze
Partly due to its newness, sampling and analyzing for the presence of PFAS is expensive; especially as compared to the cost of sampling and analyzing for Perc. The current list of PFAS compounds is at 36 and has changed continually since regulation began. The act of collecting samples costs several hundred dollars per sample and requires a minimum of three analyzed laboratory samples, which includes one field sample and two analysis blanks, per the currently accepted U.S. EPA test method. The extra quality assurance samples, like the blanks, are necessary because PFAS in groundwater have been found to be so ever-present in the environment and the extremely common nature of PFAS in clothing, personal care goods, common commercial and household goods, and food containers.

3. Drycleaners face possibility of denial of regulatory closure without PFAS assessment
According to Rob Hoverman, one of the most troublesome developments from the WDNR has been an actual denial of a regulatory closure request due to having not sampled for PFAS in groundwater at the site after reaching the remedial objectives for a release of Perc. We have some drycleaner clients who are in no hurry to receive such denials, so they’re postponing their closure request altogether until the PFAS regulatory scenario develops further. Not an ideal situation for the regulated community or the regulators.

There may be some reasonable news here, in that what the WDNR is asking for is an assessment of the potential for there to have been a release of PFAS along with any other release from a drycleaner operation. If we want to focus on waterproofing products as the primary source of potential PFAS problems, then a concise explanation of the operational history of a drycleaning business over the years is step one. Making a demonstration that waterproofing was not performed at the location may be sufficient to serve as that assessment. If waterproofing and other treatment services were offered, then the assessment will likely need to consist of sampling. WDNR representatives recently suggested that the current line of thinking as to the occurrence of PFAS at sites with Perc releases to the environment is correlated to mishandling of still bottoms or used filters. The logic is that since PFAS compounds are not volatile, the distillation and filtering process would have concentrated and PFAS that came from garments treated with waterproofing products within the still bottoms. As such, there could also be a reasonable argument to be made against actual sampling during a PFAS assessment if the subsurface Perc data indicates that the release originated from some source other than still bottoms.

As the regulation of PFAS continues to coalesce over the coming months and year, I’ll provide periodic updates in this article. Stay tuned to the Environmental Corner in 2021 for up-to-date reports on how State regulators are reacting to this important issue for dry cleaners.

Contact us if you have questions about PFAS.

As seen in Cleaner & Launderer

Photo of Jeff Carnahan, President at EnviroForensicsJeff Carnahan, President
Jeff Carnahan, LPG, has 20+ years of environmental consulting and remediation experience. His technical expertise focuses on the investigation and interpretation of subsurface releases of hazardous substances for the purpose of evaluating and controlling the risk and cost implications. He has been a partner of the drycleaning industry for the past decade and is a frequent contributor to the national drycleaning publication Cleaner & Launderer. He is an industry leader in understanding that environmental risk includes not only cleanup costs, but also known and unknown third-party liability.


Advancing ASTM Standards + Pro Tips for Real Estate Transactions


Environmental consultants in safety vests conducting real estate due diligence with clipboard


Real estate due diligence is a formal process that assesses real estate for the potential risk of environmental contamination. Due diligence is conducted to understand the environmental conditions and prior uses of the property in order to reduce environmental liability and risk. Understanding these conditions allows a buyer to evaluate potential limitation, liabilities, and risk associated with the property and reduces environmental liabilities under CERCLA. Standards for conducting due diligence are set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The standards and practices described in the ASTM E1527 Standard are designed to constitute all appropriate inquiries as defined in 42 U.S.C §9601(35)(B)

ASTM is the abbreviation for American Society for Testing and Materials and is an international standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services across a variety of business sectors. ASTM has technical committees dedicated to environmental standards, and they have published hundreds of standards to promote environmental safety in areas ranging from improved environmental assessment processes to enhanced waste management and recycling programs.

ASTM due diligence standards are important because they provide consultants and regulatory agencies agreed-upon terms and best practices. For real estate transactions, ASTM E1527 defines the procedures required to perform a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) that satisfies all appropriate inquiries under the Brownfields Amendments, allowing users of the report to qualify for limitations on the CERCLA liability.

ASTM revises and updates technical standards to ensure the latest research and regulatory requirements are integrated into the standard technical practices and processes.

Roger Cohen, EnviroForensics Real Estate Due Diligence Manager, recently joined ASTM’s subcommittee E50.02 focused on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management, and Corrective Action. The first task he supported was the latest update and revision of ASTM E1527 Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments: Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Process. The standards are updated and revised every eight years with the new technical standard coming out in 2021. The updated standards are submitted to them and then approved so environmental consultants can follow the latest guidelines put forth by experts in the industry.

These new technical standards will include language around Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and other emerging contaminants, which is new compared to the previous version, however, it doesn’t necessarily change how they will be handled. For example, PFAS are not widely regulated in the United States right now, and for a potential contamination to be considered a recognized environmental condition (REC), it must be regulated either by the EPA or the State government. Therefore, depending on the state, PFAS may not be considered a REC. As technical understandings advance, the revised ASTM technical standards will help reduce current ambiguity around emerging contaminants as RECs for environmental consultants.

1. What things do people need to know before they do a Phase I ESA?
The environmental investigation is a key part of commercial/industrial property transfer. Buyers should incorporate budget and time into their preparations to perform the Phase I ESA and, if necessary, further investigation on a property, to ensure they have protections against environmental liability in place prior to a transfer of the property deed. Environmental issues can be frustrating for a buyer, adding additional costs or slowing down the property transfer and future redevelopment of a Site. But the process is there to protect the buyer. Environmental issues are high-liability, with environmental investigation and remediation expenses frequently costing more than a million dollars. While the environmental investigation costs are often minimal in comparison to the amounts involved in a property transfer, it is essential that the due diligence be performed thoroughly and that, if necessary, additional legal protections obtained. The Environmental Professional should be able to assist in the process and work with the buyer’s lender(s), attorney(s), and state and federal regulatory agencies to help facilitate the property transfer while ensuring buyer protections are in place.

Read our blog to learn more about Phase I and Phase II ESA.

2. What steps should someone take before starting a Phase I ESA?
It is important that a buyer have an Environmental Professional that they trust who will help them through the due diligence process. Plan enough time to ensure due diligence is performed prior to obtaining the deed for a property. Your Environmental Professional should be able to provide you with additional information regarding the property based on a general review of the property’s history and the history of land use in the general vicinity of the Site.

3. How long is a Phase I ESA good for?
In order to receive environmental liability protections, the interviews, database reviews, lien search, visual inspection of the property, and the declaration by the environmental professional all have be have been conducted within 180 days of the date of purchase. The Phase I ESA Report is good for 1 year; however, if any of the above sections are over 180 days old then the user will not be granted the liability protections afforded by the due diligence process.

4. When in the real estate transaction process should a buyer conduct a Phase I ESA?
A buy should ensure they have a valid Phase I ESA prior to the deed transfer of the property.

5. Do you have any advice or next steps for people considering a Phase I ESA?
Buyers should understand that a Phase I ESA is a comprehensive process, with reports incorporating large quantities of data. It takes time to accumulate and process the data, and there can be delays related to access to the Site or responses from government agencies that are queried as part of the interview process. COVID-19 has also caused delays and additional considerations, as access has been limited to many businesses and the response time for records requests has increased. I recommend that potential purchasers of commercial/industrial properties plan for the Phase I ESA as part of the buying process. Talk with your environmental professional up front regarding the property. They should be able to provide you general expectations based on the site’s current use and the usage and history of the surrounding area.

6. What should a buyer be on the lookout for?
Buyers should be aware that certain types of properties are at much greater risk of causing environmental impacts, such as gasoline stations, dry cleaners, and industrial facilities. Ask your environmental professional at the beginning of the process if they have any concerns and understand the risk tolerance of your financial institution.

7. What should a buyer do if a Phase I ESA turns up RECs?
Take a deep breath and do not panic. The point of the Phase I ESA is to identify potential petroleum and/or hazardous chemical impacts to avoid future liability for a buyer. Talk with your environmental professional, your lawyer, and your financial institution to determine what next steps need to be taken in order to ensure your liability protections are in place and to determine if the potential impacts will have an impact on the buyer’s proposed use of the property. Sometimes nothing needs to be done, sometimes a subsurface investigation needs to be performed, and sometimes you need to get creative to find solutions to satisfy your lender and possibly regulatory agencies. Your environmental professional can help you to understand the risk involved and provide you with next steps if needed.

Learn more about our real estate due diligence services


headshot of Roger CohenRoger Cohen, LPG, Manager of Real Estate Due Diligence
Roger Cohen has 10+ years of environmental consulting experience specializing in environmental and real estate due diligence, site investigation, and remediation. Roger has worked on varying projects including performing investigation and remediation of sites impacted with petroleum and chlorinated contaminants, metals, and pesticides and herbicides to industrial hygiene impacts such as asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold. He has facilitated regulatory closure and redevelopment of Sites across Indiana through the IDEM VRP, State Cleanup, LUST, RCRA, CERCLA and Brownfields programs.

Roger works with banks, real estate developers, and local and state government officials to evaluate environmental risk, determine pathways to redevelopment, and assist in finding alternative funding sources such as historical insurance policies, tax credits, federal and local Brownfield grants, and state trust funds.

7 common questions about PCE spills


Cross-section look at the subsurface where PCE contamination can potentially transport through soil and into groundwater a great distance away from a drycleaning operation


Perchloroethylene (PCE) spills, or releases into the ground from drycleaning operations are fairly common. In fact, they are so common that most drycleaning properties are usually subject to a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) during a real estate transaction. Whether you are thinking of buying, selling, or maintaining a property that used PCE in the past, you’ll want to know more about this drycleaning solvent and how it can impact the environmental wellbeing of a property. Here are some common questions about PCE.   

PCE contamination is a series of releases or spills that travel into the soil and groundwater over time. Historically, chemical handling practices were not as refined as they are today, so most releases of PCE were accidental, and may have been related to cleaning of equipment filters, distiller boil-overs, storage equipment failures, or disposal of hazardous process waste as well as spills from older drycleaning machines or operations. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take that much PCE to cause contamination. A shot-glass full of it is enough to contaminate an entire olympic-size swimming pool! And, once it finds its way into the ground, either through dirt, gravel, or untreated concrete, it can easily find a pathway to the soil and groundwater below.

Learn more about the fate and transport of spilled PCE

Yes,  long-term exposure to PCE can be dangerous to humans. The contamination can potentially impact the indoor air and drinking water in the surrounding area of the release or spill site. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified PCE as a Group 2A carcinogen. Non-cancerous effects include skin irritation, dizziness, headache, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive issues in women. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the primary health concern as neurological effects from short and long-term exposure to PCE. They evaluated the health risk as “unreasonable to workers, occupational non-users, consumers, bystanders, and the environment from certain users.” Read the EPA’s full Draft Risk Evaluation for Perchloroethylene.

PCE spills will travel downward along what geologists call a “preferential pathway.” In other words, the path of least resistance. The high-gravity PCE will find a seam of sand or a pocket of less consolidated, grainy soil to travel through before it hits the water table. Once it hits groundwater, it will spread with the groundwater flow while continuing to drop downward because it’s heavier than water. The only thing that can stop the PCE from going further is an impermeable geologic unit like clay.

There are three reasons why PCE is so difficult to clean up:

  1. PCE is heavier than water.
    It’s over 60% heavier than water under normal conditions and sinks to the bottom while the groundwater floats on the top.
  2. PCE is resistant to natural breakdown
    Many times, naturally occurring conditions in the groundwater must be enhanced to take away the oxygen and more of a particular kind of microbes may need to be injected to speed up the reductive dechlorination process, also known as part of the cleanup process.
  3. PCE vapors are persistent and mobile
    PCE can remain in the soil as a vapor for a long period of time without breaking down. If the vapors reach an occupied structure, like a house, and migrate into the indoor living space, vapor intrusion (VI) is now a problem.

Read our in-depth explainer for why perc spills are so difficult to clean up.

When you learn that there has been a release of hazardous materials, such as chlorinated or petroleum drycleaning solvents, the first thing you’ll need to do is quickly find an environmental consultant and/or an attorney to make sure that you follow the required process for your state or jurisdiction. 

Once the contamination has been reported to the regulatory agency, your case will receive a tracking number, which will be used throughout your time in the regulatory cleanup and closure process. A good environmental consultant will work on your behalf and represent your best interests with the regulatory agency. They will work with the regulators to determine the nature and extent of the contamination, propose an investigation and cleanup work scope, and get approval on and implement the remediation work plan (RWP).

Watch our webinar on how to respond when you find perc contamination

There are a number of different ways to clean up PCE spills. The type and amount of the contamination as well as property limitations are factors when considering your options. These are the different cleanup options your environmental consultant will evaluate.

  1. Excavation and disposal for soil source area remediation
    Excavation is digging the contaminated soil out of the ground, and safely disposing of it. It’s a common approach to remove contamination from soils above the water table in areas that have access to the ground surface.
  2. Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) for soil source area remediation
    Soil Vapor Extraction is essentially vacuuming the contaminated soil vapor out of the ground. The technology utilizes the volatile properties of drycleaning solvents. A SVE system includes a series of screened pipes that are installed in the soil, which are all piped together and connected to a high-volume, specially designed and manufactured industrial fan, or blower. When activated, air is drawn through the treatment area and extracted through the screened pipes.
  3. Thermal treatments for soil source area remediation
    Thermal is a lot like SVE, without waiting for the contaminant to naturally become a vapor. The primary approach is heating up the subsurface to a temperature high enough to increase the volatility of the contaminant, and then capturing the resulting vapors using an SVE system as described in point #2 above.
  4. In-Situ for groundwater source area remediation and groundwater plume area remediation
    In-situ remediation involves the injection of chemicals into the ground to accelerate the natural degradation of the drycleaning solvent. 

Learn more about these remediation solutions

It’s really difficult to put an exact price tag on the cleanup of a pce spill because there are so many variables that will be factored in. The entire purpose of a site investigation is to determine the nature and extent of the contamination, which then helps determine the best method for actually remediating the issue. Both the investigation and remediation process can be time consuming and expensive. 

We’ve seen cleanups range in the several hundreds-of-thousands to even over $2 million. While that’s a wide range, the average we typically see is probably closer to $1.25 million. This is why it’s important for drycleaners to seek alternative funding options through their old Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies. These policies could potentially be worth millions of dollars in coverage and could aid in offsetting the cost of a cleanup.  

Whether you know your drycleaning facility has a perc contamination or you suspect it might, the best thing to do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Contact an environmental consultant with experience in managing the complexities of perc contamination, enlist the help of a trusted environmental attorney that will fight for your best interests, and look into bringing in an insurance archeologist to search for your historical coverage. As an environmental firm that has worked with numerous drycleaning operations, we can tell you through experience that the best to be prepared when perc contamination is found.

Contact us today to learn more about PCE spills and how we can help you address them

Dru Carlisle, Director of Dry Cleaner Accounts
For over 10 years, Dru has helped numerous business and property owners facing regulatory action, navigate and manage their environmental liability. Dru has vast experience in assisting dry cleaners in securing funding for their environmental cleanups through historical insurance policies. Dru is a member of numerous drycleaning associations in addition to serving on the Midwest Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (MWDLI) advisory council and on the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute Board (DLI) as an Allied Trade District Committee Member.

What you need to know when addressing environmental contamination


caution sign in pile of perc contaminated soil


To start, I’ll walk through the three important areas to become familiar with when addressing environmental contamination. Also, if you’re interested in this topic area, check out our webinar with Cleaner and Launderer on “how to respond when you find perc contamination”.


If an environmental contamination problem has come to light and you’ve been notified, there are regulations, rules, and laws in effect that require you to respond. Congress passes the laws that govern the United States, but Congress has also authorized EPA and other federal agencies to help put those laws into effect by creating and enforcing regulations. The EPA, in turn, has given each state the authority to implement and enforce their regulations within their area of jurisdiction, so long as the state regulations are at least as stringent as the federal regulations. A similar process exists in Canada between the federal and provincial environmental regulating agencies.

When an environmental release of hazardous substances has occurred onto or beneath the ground surface, these regulations require that the parties that may have caused or contributed to that contamination are responsible for investigating the nature and extent of the release. There are many nuances involved in determining who may become considered a potential responsible party, and who may ultimately be required to clean up the contamination, as I’ve discussed in recent articles. This question of rightful responsibility, if potentially contested, really belongs in the realm of legal liabilities, and an attorney should be consulted. The process for complying with the regulatory agencies is a bit less complex, although there are many nuances and an experienced environmental consultant will be needed to interface with the agency on your behalf.

So, when you first learn that there has been a release of hazardous materials, such as chlorinated or petroleum dry cleaning solvents, the first thing you’ll need to do is quickly find a consultant or an environmental attorney to make sure that you follow the required process for your state. Commonly, there is a reporting process that must be followed, and there are well-defined timelines that must be met. Once the contamination has been reported to the agency, your case will receive a number, which will be used throughout your regulatory process. You may be given an option to enter a voluntary cleanup program, or you may be required to remain in an enforcement program. Those who take the option to perform investigation and cleanup in a voluntary program usually are allowed more freedom in process and timing and may be eligible for a greater degree of indemnification at the close of the process after cleanup is complete. Enforcement programs may take longer since the agency remains involved in every step, and approvals may take a while. There are other regulatory vehicles that may come into play, such as agreed orders or enforcement orders, when higher levels of assurance are needed by you as the responsible party or the agency.

Each agency has its own personality and may create its own frustrations for you. Bottom line, however, is that if an environmental release has been identified and you want to put it behind you, involvement of the regulatory agency will be necessary. The mission of environmental agencies is to protect human health and the environment. If you keep that in mind and let that be the basis for dealings with the agency, you may be able to have a better understanding of their actions. You may also need to remind certain people within the agency of the scope and limits of their own mission at times to keep them from overreaching their boundaries. That’s specifically what most environmental consultants are good at, so look to them to lead these conversations.


There are many legal issues that may arise soon after you discover environmental contamination, for which you may be responsible. The very first of which is, are you potentially responsible. Since this question is a matter of environmental laws, an environmental attorney should help you answer that. If you are a single owner who has operated at a site where nobody else has, then it may not really be an applicable question. However, if there have been multiple operators and landowners at the contaminated site and you are just one of them, there are some legal matters to address. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to involving an environmental attorney on your behalf.

The environmental rules and regulations are very closely linked with the law. Any time a matter of law is involved, so should an attorney. Your environmental consultant cannot and should not give advice related to the law. They can help you adhere to regulations, but not laws. As such, relying on your consultant to assist with regulations at a lower price, and have your attorney help with true legal matters at a typically higher price is the normal combination. Conversely, attorneys aren’t in the business of making scientific recommendations regarding the actual investigation and cleanup of the contamination, so that’s another reason why both environmental consultants and attorneys are needed.

It’s common for your environmental attorney to also assist you in understanding other aspects of legal liability outside of regulatory issues that you may have because of the contamination. For example, if the contamination at your site has crossed the property line, there may be trespass issues, and potentially human exposure liabilities to assess and attend to. By allowing your attorney to guide you during the investigation and cleanup process, you’ll have someone watching your back and making sure you don’t expose yourself to liabilities accidentally. You will want a specialized environmental attorney who has much experience with these types of matters. A general business practitioner is likely not experienced enough with these matters to give you sound advice.


The third component of getting started with handling your environmental contamination problem has to do with money. The investigation and cleanup process ranges from expensive to very expensive, so having a hard look at a financial strategy is of paramount importance. The legal advice and work costs money, the investigation and cleanup process itself costs money, the agency is likely to charge you fees for their oversight, and heaven forbid, there could even be penalties involved if you get behind the eight ball. The really bad news here is that lack of funding doesn’t constitute an avenue for forgiveness of a responsible party’s ownership of the liability to investigate and clean up the contamination. Given a demonstration of financial hardship to the agency, you could qualify for various forms of aid, however. Some agencies work with state-run financial entities that may be able to provide you with a low-interest loan, but that may not be a great alternative. The first action is to evaluate all your business assets to make sure that you aren’t leaving any stones unturned. Of course, look at your old commercial general liability (CGL) policies. If you know that you bought these policies but can’t find them, hire an insurance archeologist to help recreate your old insurance portfolio. If you are in a state with favorable case law, you could be covered for the investigation costs, cleanup costs, and your environmental attorney costs.

Work with your environmental consultant to determine the potential financial burden that you may be facing. They will be very cautious about giving you an estimate because until the investigation phase of the work has been completed it will be difficult to quantify a dollar amount. Therefore it’s important to have various options for funding readily available. Contamination can be very tricky, especially chlorinated solvent releases such as tetrachloroethylene (Perc), which tend to hide the true magnitude until a full evaluation has been conducted. The investigation process alone can cost a few hundred thousand dollars. Over my decades of environmental work, it’s common to see an average cost of over one million dollars for a drycleaner site where a release of Perc has occurred. Granted, I’ve seen regulatory closures attained for less than five hundred thousand dollars, but I’ve also seen drycleaner cleanups cost into the tens of millions of dollars. It just depends on how long ago the release happened, and how bad it was.

Hiring a consultant who has performed numerous drycleaner site cleanups is critical since they can help you understand the potential cost more than others. A good one should also be familiar with other potential funding resources that may be available to you. Everyone understands that small business, and even larger ones, may have a hard time with the financial burden of environmental investigation and cleanups. Don’t panic until you’ve explored all avenues.

These three areas – regulatory, legal and financial – are all important when you’re faced with environmental contamination. Whether you expected it or not, you could be on the hook for the cleanup. By following the advice given in this article, you’ll be well on your way to addressing environmental contamination responsibility with a sense of calm for your legal security, your financial plans and your reputation. Both your pocketbook and the future value of your property will thank you and you can rest assured that you took every step you could to get the best outcome possible.

Contact us today to address your environmental contamination.

As seen in Cleaner and Launderer

Headshot of Jeff CarnahanJeff Carnahan, President
Jeff Carnahan, LPG, has 20+ years of environmental consulting and remediation experience. His technical expertise focuses on the investigation and interpretation of subsurface releases of hazardous substances for the purpose of evaluating and controlling the risk and cost implications. He has been a partner of the drycleaning industry for the past decade, and is a frequent contributor to the national drycleaning publication Cleaner & Launderer. He is an industry leader in understanding that environmental risk includes not only cleanup costs, but also known and unknown third-party liability.

How to pinpoint when a Perc release occurred


Drum spilling drycleaning chemical Perc onto pavement


Let’s get technical. With the recent and anticipated increases in the number of drycleaner businesses and properties changing hands, we’re seeing an increase in environmental issues needing to be addressed. It’s rare for a single operator to have occupied a drycleaning business property through the years, especially as far back in time as the 60’s or 70’s. If environmental contamination is discovered at a property with a history of drycleaning operations, every one of the corporate entities that conducted business at that location is subject to claims of the release(s) that occurred during their time at the property.


Can Perc releases be accurately age dated? The answer isn’t a straightforward yes. It can be extremely difficult to tell exactly when an environmental release occurred, but there are scientific methods available to help bracket a range of dates when it was likely. There are three ways to pinpoint when a perc release has occurred. I’ll explain this by using tetrachloroethylene (PCE), also known as Perc, contamination in the groundwater as an example.


One way to determine the relative age of a release is by evaluating the breakdown products of Perc. The process goes like this: trichloroethene (TCE)  dichloroethane (DCE)  vinyl chloride (VC)—these are known as “daughter products”, which come from decaying Perc. Perc is considered a recalcitrant compound, meaning it is pervasive in the subsurface environment and doesn’t break down easily under natural conditions. When Perc is released into a typical groundwater environment, where an ample amount of oxygen is present, it generally breaks down very, very slowly, if at all. We have seen groundwater plumes of Perc that are over 50 years old that haven’t degraded at all. Significant natural breakdown of Perc only occurs in groundwater when there is very little oxygen, and the microorganisms that thrive in those anaerobic conditions are abundant. These are the factors that can equate to the degradation of Perc to TCE, DCE, and VC. The longer the plume has existed under these optimal conditions for breakdown, the more daughter products there are. The sequence can be illustrated by the following sequence based on relative proportions of these compounds:

Infographic depicting PCE daughter products released over time as a way to determine the age of a Perc release

As mentioned, using the ratio of breakdown products to Perc is not singularly a reliable method for estimating the age of the Perc release in groundwater where there is plenty of oxygen.

Learn more about what makes cleaning up Perc spills so expensive


Another approach is to determine the horizontal extent of the contaminated groundwater plume. In general, the groundwater velocity multiplied by the amount of time since the release occurred equals the distance traveled. Fundamentally, if you know the velocity of the groundwater and the distance the groundwater plume has traveled, you should be able to mathematically determine the amount of time that has passed since the release entered the groundwater. Clearly, it is much more complicated than that and it takes a seasoned hydrogeologist to perform those calculations. Often, a computer model of groundwater conditions needs to be created to account for the vast multitude of variables that come into play.

This graphic is an example of a drycleaner releasing Perc into groundwater in the subsurface.



The age dating approaches are useful if you are trying to determine when a release of Perc happened at a single property and get a feel for who was operating at that time. A more complicated scenario is when one is trying to determine the age of a Perc release when it has merged with another release from a different property. This is known as a comingled plume. In this scenario, scientists may rely on evaluating the presence of differing chemical isotopes within the Perc found in the distinct groundwater plumes. To understand this approach, the scientist must have information on the original product that the drycleaner used over specific time periods. Different manufacturers of Perc had unique product formulas from their competitors and recycled Perc would have a very different formula from virgin Perc. Under this set of facts, the isotopic analysis, or fingerprint of the product, can be useful.

Find out how environmental forensics can help determine who is liable for a contaminant release

In comingled plume studies, the isotopic fingerprint of each source is established using these methods. In theory, this is not too difficult and would require just a couple of samples in the source area and at the leading edge of the plume. However, in actuality age dating a plume is more complex. As mentioned above, a precondition is that we know the isotopic fingerprint of the Perc product that was used at a given time and location versus the isotopic fingerprint of the Perc product used at a different time and location. If one is trying to establish the age of a release at the same site, we need to know the date when the Perc products that were used switched from one to another.


These three approaches help the investigation process move forward and allow drycleaners to pinpoint when a Perc release happened. As with many things in life, there’s ambiguity, especially to an untrained eye. This is why it’s so important to find an environmental consultant who understands the complexity that comes with environmental work at drycleaning businesses. They will be able to guide you through this investigation with clear goals knowing which challenges may arise and which challenges that can be avoided.

As always, we’re here to support our friends in the drycleaning community and want to see the best outcome for you no matter your situation.

Learn more about how we can assist you through the environmental investigation and cleanup process. Fill out our contact form.


As seen in Cleaner and Launderer

Headshot of Jeff CarnahanJeff Carnahan, President
Jeff Carnahan, LPG, has 20+ years of environmental consulting and remediation experience. His technical expertise focuses on the investigation and interpretation of subsurface releases of hazardous substances for the purpose of evaluating and controlling the risk and cost implications. He has been a partner of the drycleaning industry for the past decade, and is a frequent contributor to the national drycleaning publication Cleaner & Launderer. He is an industry leader in understanding that environmental risk includes not only cleanup costs, but also known and unknown third-party liability.

What Should I Do if an Environmental Investigation Has Been Requested?


Drycleaner pulling demand letter from environmental agency out of mailbox


We understand that most people are unhappy when environmental issues pop up. This can happen when a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) has uncovered Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs), you’ve received a demand letter from an environmental regulatory agency, or you’re aware that you most likely have contamination. Back in the day, many industrial solvents and chemicals used in operations like dry cleaning and manufacturing were not known to be hazardous, so regulations were different than they are today. Even newer industrial operations can have minor hazardous leaks and spills causing environmental impacts that will need to be addressed when they are discovered. Depending on the past business operations at certain properties, sometimes environmental issues are inevitable. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and potentially minimize your out of pocket expenses.

In this blog, we’ll dive into effective strategies to address environmental issues.


It’s never too early to prepare for the potential challenges associated with environmental issues; whether it’s finding funds to cover the expenses through insurance archeology or finding the right partner to lean on for support. This is why it’s important for drycleaners, industrial launderers and textiles, and manufacturers to be proactive and assemble their available resources before an environmental issue is discovered.


Business owners that search for their old comprehensive general liability (CGL) insurance policies before an environmental investigation begins will have an important step taken care of because these policies can be used to help pay for resolving environmental liabilities.

Historical CGL policies, once located and leveraged, typically cover the costs of your legal defense and will pay on your behalf of damages if you are found liable—up to the limits of your policy. Historical CGL policies are valuable assets that may be worth millions of dollars and depending on your situation and the state in which you conduct business, the out-of-pocket environmental cleanup costs may be minimal.

Infographic illustrating the what commercial general liability policies can be used to pay for, such as environmental and defense costs.
Once triggered historical commercial general liability (CGL) policies can be used to recoup or pay for 1) site investigation, 2) remediation/cleanup, 3) interim remedial measures, 4) building a legal case, 5) responsible party search, 6) interfacing with agencies, 7) defense against legal claims, and 8) legal fees. Additionally, CGL policies can be used to recoup costs already spent. To learn more about CGL policies, visit How Does It Work? CGL Policies and Insurance Archeology.

If locating your old policy information and business records proves to be too difficult to do on your own, you can bring in an experienced insurance archeologist to help find your old policy information, put together a corporate history and coverage chart for your company and property.  Insurance Archeologists utilize a number of methods for tracking down evidence of policies, whether your own, or past owners or operators.

Learn more about our insurance archeology services 


Since contamination devalues a business and a cleanup can take some time to do, it’s smart to act sooner than later, like when you’re ready to sell or pass on your business to the next generation. And now that you know how to find your old policy information and business records, it’s time to start strategizing with environmental experts to prepare for an environmental investigation.


Experience matters and choosing an environmental expert with the right background and knowledge to guide you as you prepare your environmental strategy is crucial. Find environmental experts with significant experience in your industry. For example, drycleaners and industrial launders and textiles should look for experts with proven chlorinated solvent experience while manufacturers should look for experts with proven polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) or hexavalent chromium experience.

The strategy may include an environmental investigation, a vapor intrusion assessment or maybe even an environmental remediation if contamination is found. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect when the process starts but having an experienced environmental consultant with expertise in your industry can make a big difference. They’ll have a better sense of what to expect at your business and will be there to help you navigate the decisions you’ll need to make to move forward with your environmental strategy.

While cleanup strategies are personal for each business, the overall steps are similar. A smart strategy begins with 1) finding what coverage is available, 2) determining the extent of contamination, and 3) implementing a site-specific cleanup plan.

The three steps to environmental cleanup including insurance archeology, environmental investigation, and environmental remediation
These are the steps to a smart environmental cleanup strategy. Read more about addressing environmental contamination.

There’s no need to face environmental liabilities or demand letters on your own. Business owners can take proactive steps to get in the driver’s seat and protect their assets with the support of insurance archeologists and environmental consultants. We strongly believe there shouldn’t be a financial barrier to performing meaningful environmental restoration work and that insurance policy coverage for environmental liabilities should be honored by the carriers.

Do you have questions about environmental investigations? Contact us today.



Headshot of Director of Accounts, Dru Shields

Dru Carlisle, Director of Drycleaner Accounts
For over 10 years, Dru has helped numerous business and property owners facing regulatory action, navigate and manage their environmental liability. Dru has vast experience in assisting dry cleaners in securing funding for their environmental cleanups through historical insurance policies. Dru is a member of numerous drycleaning associations in addition to serving on the Midwest Drycleaning and Laundry Institute (MWDLI) advisory council and on the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute Board (DLI) as an Allied Trade District Committee Member.


Setting Your Environmental Investigation and Remediation Priorities


A red paper air plane moving forward with a new strategy away from a group of white paper air planes


The EPA and many State environmental agencies have issued statements providing loose guidance related to the potential availability of some slack in regulations due to COVID-19  and the financial stress that it has put on many responsible parties who are in a cleanup program. If you are in a position where there is a known release of hazardous substances from your operations or previous operations at your site, there are decisions that need to be made about whether or not to proceed with various aspects of the environmental investigation and cleanup process. Some things can wait, and some just cannot  


There is an adage that says, “Do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. With environmental contamination issues, there is often the possibility that others could be put in harm’s way from exposure to hazardous substances. The work related to investigating and eliminating a direct exposure to contamination should be top priorities, and it really can’t be put on hold. Here are three scenarios where environmental cleanup shouldn’t wait: 


At sites where a subsurface release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as PCE, TCE, or Benzene has occurred, the potential for vapor intrusion most likely exists at nearby buildings. If there are residences, daycare facilities, schools, or medical care facilities close by, that threat carries an even higher urgency. Whereas many investigations that include soil or groundwater sampling are measuring a potential exposure, vapor intrusion assessments measure actual exposure situations. If vapor intrusion is actually occurring at a building, the occupants are breathing the contamination directly. The VOCs mentioned above are all carcinogenic to some degree and are highly regulated. Exposure scenarios where their levels are identified at concentrations higher than risk-based screening levels are strictly enforced by regulatory agencies. If you are the responsible party for a release of VOCs and the vapor intrusion exposure pathway hasn’t been ruled out, appropriate sampling of the inhalation exposure pathway at nearby structures should not be delayedIf it is confirmed that levels of VOCs in the indoor air at sampled buildings are higher than the regulated levels, immediate actions to protect the occupants, such as the installation of a sub-slab depressurization system, will also be required.  


It is not uncommon for releases of contamination to migrate into the groundwater, and then become mobile and transport downgradient. Since groundwater is a valuable drinking water resource in many areas, the potential exists for contamination to make its way into potable water supply wells. Like vapor intrusion assessments, the sampling of groundwater for the presence of contamination within a well-head protection area is an assessment of a direct exposure for those who may drink that water. This type of exposure scenario, if likely or probable, is one where there should not be delay in making a determination if your release is impacting others. The timing is unfortunate, but sampling of the ingestion exposure pathway in this situation will be strictly mandated by regulatory agencies.  


One factor that allows subsurface soil sampling at contamination sites to proceed at a calculated pace is that many times the impacts are well below the ground surface. When this is the situation, the likelihood of people coming into contact with the hazardous substance is pretty low and may be limited to construction workers who may be digging in the area. When contamination appears to be present at the ground surface in a location that is frequented by people, especially children, the potential for direct contact with that soil is much higher. While this threat is less common than vapor intrusion or groundwater ingestion exposure, if your site fits into this scenario, be prepared for the regulators to demand that investigation and exposure mitigation measures be carried out, with little to no leniency.  


If you’ve already advanced your site investigation and/or remediation process past the point where you know whether there is a threat of an ongoing exposure, you can probably get some concurrence from the regulators to slow things down a bit. Here are two scenarios where environmental work could be postponed: 


Typically, after a cleanup action has been implemented, say a source area soil excavation or a groundwater cleanup, there is a period of time during which routine quarterly, semi-annual or annual groundwater monitoring is required to demonstrate that the project was successful. Sometimes the cleanup mark can be missed, and it isn’t known until post-remedial monitoring shows a rebound in contaminant concentrations. Although any delay in the performance of this monitoring has the effect of prolonging the amount of time until you get your regulatory closure, if it is necessary to route the funding to other, more critical business efforts, it is likely that you can get the relief you need. 


If you are involved in an environmental investigation and cleanup, and you have already shown through sampling that the extent of contamination doesn’t extend beyond your own property boundaries, it is also likely that you can put off cleanup for a period of time. Of course, if conditions were to arise in the meantime that involve the potential sale or refinancing of your property, the issue would once again be at the forefront and most likely the work would need to move forward to complete the deal.   

When economic conditions turn sour, as they are now, business leaders look to save cash on things that don’t absolutely need to happen right now. There are some situations, as we’ve discussed, where environmental projects may be delayed for a period of time to help out. Keep in mind, however, that as long as there is an environmental condition at your property that has not been closed through a regulatory program, your business and your property will never have its full value. Perhaps now is the time to seize the day and protect your assets’ value If this is your goal, it makes sense to keep the project moving.  

Contact us today to review your environmental investigation and remediation priorities. 


As seen in Cleaner and Launderer  

Jeff Carnahan, President
Jeff Carnahan, LPG, has 20+ years of environmental consulting and remediation experience. His technical expertise focuses on the investigation and interpretation of subsurface releases of hazardous substances for the purpose of evaluating and controlling the risk and cost implications. He has been a partner of the drycleaning industry for the past decade, and is a frequent contributor to the national drycleaning publication Cleaner & Launderer. He is an industry leader in understanding that environmental risk includes not only cleanup costs, but also known and unknown third-party liability.