What is perchloroethylene? Sometimes called PCE or PERCE, perchloroethylene is a non-flammable, colorless liquid that has a sweet odor to it. It is considered to be a volatile organic compound, or a VOC. It is a manufactured chemical that is used to degrease metals and is a staple of the dry-cleaning industry.
Perchloroethylene is also used to make other chemicals and coatings. It is an ingredient in aerosol products, printer ink, glues, sealants, paint removers, spot removers, and even shoe polish. It is also used as a cooling gas and insulating fluid for electrical transformers.
Because of its versatility, the perchloroethylene industry has a number of influences that lead it toward profitability. It has also been listed in the 14th Report on Carcinogens, however, and may be linked to cervical and esophageal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Here are the industry statistics that you’re going to want to know.
Important Perchloroethylene Industry Statistics
#1. Perchloroethylene has been used commercially since the 1990s and because of its potential threats, levels and exposures are regulated by several governments. In the United States, OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, limits workplace exposure to 100 parts per million (ppm) during an average 8-hour workday. (American Cancer Society)
#2. The approved perchloroethylene exposure levels for any 5-minute period in the United States is a maximum of 300ppm. (American Cancer Society)
#3. There are drinking water exposure limits for perchloroethylene as well in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits concentrations to 5 parts per billion (ppb), or 0.005mg per liter. The overall goal is to reduce perchloroethylene exposure in drinking water to absolute zero. (American Cancer Society)
#4. There are an estimated 35,000 dry cleaners currently operating in the United States. About 85% of them use perchloroethylene as their solvent of choice for their cleaning procedures. (Occidental College)
#5. As of January 2018, there are currently 322 products that contain perchloroethylene currently being sold on Alibaba. Over 60% of the products being sold are classified as commercial laundry equipment. (Alibaba)
#6. There are currently 11 parent companies that own the 12 major sources of perchloroethylene risk that have been identified in the United States. Of these firms, 6 of them are classified as being a small business according to the current standards set by the U.S. Small Business Administration. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#7. More than half of the companies involved with perchloroethylene in the United States have $12 million or less in annual revenue. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#8. Revenue data for 4 of the 11 firms involved with perchloroethylene in the United States could not be located, even by government evaluators. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#9. The firm with the largest annual revenues with consistent data had $16.6 million in revenues, but the last year for cost data was 2003. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#10. In the United States, dry cleaning is a $24 billion industry and there are an estimated 100,000 machines that are in use on any given day. About 90% of those machines currently use perchloroethylene. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#11. The perchloroethylene industry is very segmented. The 50 largest producers of perchloroethylene in the world produce just 16% of the total industry revenues, though the last year for reliable data without a paywall is 1982. (Petroleum Dry Cleaners)
#12. Perchloroethylene is one of the first 10 chemicals that the EPA is examining under the reformed TSCA – Toxic Substances Control Act. (Environmental Defense Fund)
#13. Dow Chemical is the largest manufacturer of perchloroethylene in Europe. They restarted production of the chemical in Stade, Germany in 2011 after an unknown pause in production. Current activity levels are 100,000 tons per year. (ICIS)
#14. In the United States, there are three processes used to produce domestic perchloroethylene. Two of the processes involve chlorination. In 1989, there were no domestic plants using acetylene-based methods for producing perchloroethylene. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#15. In 1988, there were only two domestic producers listed as producers: Dow Chemical and PPG Industries. No updated documentation regarding the perchloroethylene industry is currently available. (Environmental Protection Agency)
#16. Total demand for perchloroethylene in the United States is estimated to be at 161,000 metric tons. Total demand in Europe was estimated at 56,000 metric tons. These figures are from 2004-2005 estimates. (Dow Chemical)
#17. In the United States, 60% of perchloroethylene use is dedicated to use as a chemical intermediate. 18% if sent to the dry-cleaning industry for textile processing. Another 18% of perchloroethylene use is for surface preparation and general cleaning. Just 2% of perchloroethylene is used as an oil-refining catalyst or for degreasing properties. (Dow Chemical)
Perchloroethylene Industry Trends and Analysis
Although perchloroethylene has been used commercially for more than two decades, there is a concentrated effort by many to move away from this product. Dry cleaners are being encouraged to use different techniques, including wet washing, as an alternative to this VOC. That means the industry will likely see slow, but continuous reductions over time as people move toward safer options.
According to Dow Chemical’s own words: “As part of its 2015 sustainability goals, Dow has committed to make publicly available safety assessments for its products globally.” Yet, the perchloroethylene industry, of which Dow Chemical is the primary global supplier, has no reliable consumption data since 2004 in the U.S. and 2005 in Europe. Some of the governmental data has not received updates since the 1980s.
Repeated exposure to perchloroethylene at high levels, perhaps as low as 200ppm, may cause kidney, bladder, and cervix health issues. Even with protection techniques in place, the potential dangers of what the perchloroethylene industry produces is what will ultimately limit its potential in the future.