Minneapolis’ air has higher-than-expected levels of dry-cleaning solvent

Minneapolis senior environmental research analyst Jenni Lansing poses with a canister used to measure air quality in a recent study. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Minneapolis senior environmental research analyst Jenni Lansing poses with a canister used to measure air quality in a recent study. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Minneapolis air has higher-than-expected levels of a chemical used in dry cleaning, a study has found.

The study’s authors concluded the results could be of particular concern for dry-cleaning facility workers and nearby residents.

The study found elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene, commonly known as perc, outside a dry-cleaning business in the Powderhorn neighborhood. The study authors said they would assume similar levels of perc at the eight other dry-cleaning facilities in Minneapolis that use the solvent.

Perc can cause vision changes, delayed reaction time and reduced mental function when people breathe high concentrations of it over many years. It may be linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The study found 132 detections of tetrachloroethylene over a two-year period across the city. One hundred of those detections were above a level that could have health consequences over a lifetime of exposure. None reached a concentration that could have immediate health effects, however, and officials stressed that Minneapolis’ air poses no immediate threat.

Most of the city had a concentration of perc below the health benchmark set by the Minnesota Department of Health.

City officials are working to lessen perc exposure through the Green Business Cost Share program. The program subsidizes dry cleaners that switch from perc to other solvents, paying up to 45 percent of the costs. Five dry cleaners have stopped using perc to date through the program.

Overall, the study detected five compounds in Minneapolis’ air that could have serious health consequences of a lifetime of exposure. None of the compounds reached a concentration that could have immediate health effects.

Study leaders Jenni Lansing and Patrick Hanlon thanked the more than 130 volunteers for their efforts in collecting the 54,000 samples. They hope to use the data to get a broader picture of Minneapolis’ air quality and to inform broader conversations about the topic.

City suggests zero-waste New Year’s resolutions

It’s not too late make a New Year’s resolution for 2017, especially when it comes to sustainability.

That’s the message from city recycling officials, who have posted a series of zero-waste New Year’s resolutions on their webpage.

Among them are reducing waste by reusing and repairing items, recycling items such as CFL light bulbs and plastic bags and participating in organics recycling.

“People think recycling is the bees knees and it certainly is,” said Kellie Kish, the city’s recycling coordinator, “but waste reduction and reuse are higher up on the hierarchy and have a higher impact.”

Officials pointed to options such as the Northeast Minnesota Tool Library, the Minneapolis Toy Library and Hennepin County’s Fix-It Clinic for people looking to reduce waste. They also suggested measures such as bringing your own bag to stores and donating and purchasing used goods. They pointed to the new ReUSE Minnesota online directory, which features businesses that sell secondhand goods.

The average person generates 4.4 pounds of waste each day, according to the city. A recent Hennepin County waste-sort study found that nearly 40 percent of what residents throw away could be recycled or composted.

Visit minneapolismn.gov/solid-waste/WasteReduction/index.htm for more ideas on how to reduce waste.

Minneapolis distributing radon kits

The city of Minneapolis is giving away 200 radon test kits to allow people to check levels of the colorless, odorless gas inside their homes.

Radon is the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, according to the city. It is the cause of more than 21,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

The gas is found in Minnesota soils and can enter homes primarily through cracks and openings in basement or foundation floors and walls. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that two in five Minnesota homes have dangerous levels of radon, levels that can pose a risk over years of exposure.

The only way for a resident to know if their home has high levels is to test.

The free kits are available while supplies last at the City of Minneapolis Development Review, 250 S. Fourth St., room 300. The department is open 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (it opens at 9 a.m. Thursdays). The kits will be available for $9 each once the free kits run out.

A Minnesota Department of Health analysis found that only about one percent of properties in the state were tested from 2010 to 2014. It found that two in five homes had dangerous levels of radon and that Minnesota homes on average had a level more than three times the national average.

The department recommends that all homeowners and renters should test. The test takes three to seven days and should be done in the lowest level of the home that’s frequently occupied. Homes above the level deemed dangerous should consider verification testing or installing a mitigation system, MDH says.

If a neighbor has high levels of radon, that doesn’t necessarily mean your house will, said Minneapolis Health Inspector Nathan Olson. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to test their homes, he said.

Data from MDH showed that about 33 percent of Minneapolis homes, buildings and schools had dangerous levels of radon from 1990-2015. Another 33 percent had results between the safe and danger zones.

“Every home should test,” said Dan Tranter, supervisor of the Indoor Air Program for MDH. “It’s the only way to know if you have a problem.”

January is National Radon Action Month, and Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed it Radon Action Month in Minnesota, with the MDH sponsoring media ads.

Visit health.state.mn.us/radon or call the MDH Indoor Air Unit at 651-201-4601 for more information.

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