Schenectady County

Dry cleaner eyes Schenectady lot, offers cleanup help

A dry-cleaning company built on environmentally friendly practices is helping clean up a polluted lo

A dry-cleaning company built on environmentally friendly practices is helping clean up a polluted lot that it wants to buy.

The property, at 809 State St., is one of many on the state Superfund list because of contamination by dry-cleaning chemicals. There are several such properties in the city alone, but this is the only one being cleaned up by a dry cleaner that didn’t cause the problem.

In this case, the state Department of Environmental Conservation says that Kem Cleaners polluted 809 State St. with perc, a chemical used instead of water to clean clothes. Unlike many other polluted sites, this one was contaminated relatively recently, between 1999 and 2007.

Through bankruptcy court, Kem was ordered to pay $65,000 toward cleaning up the site, an amount that won’t even cover testing to determine where the contaminants are and how far they’ve spread. But DEC acknowledged in court that Kem had “limited” financial means and couldn’t afford to pay more.

“They went bankrupt. We did the best we could getting money from them,” DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson said.

At the same time, Best Cleaners — an environmentally friendly company that uses water and wood pulp instead of the types of chemicals that have polluted other dry cleaning sites — started leasing the site.

Best offered to pay $20,000 toward the cleanup, which DEC accepted even though Georgeson noted that the agency couldn’t fine Best.

“Best won’t be asked to pay, because they weren’t responsible” for the contamination, he said.

Because the company won’t use perc, DEC approved Best to continue running a dry-cleaning business there during the cleanup, which may take years.

Best owner Tim McCann explained that he doesn’t need perc because about 80 percent of dry clean-only clothing can be washed with water. Getting the water safely out of the garments isn’t easy, but it’s possible with trained technicians and specialized equipment.

As for the other 20 percent, he has a new wood-pulp system that “delivers” soap to the garments without any risk to the environment.

“We love it,” he said. “In the olden days, they used perc, which is the nasty chemical, and then oil-based solvents. But really the best is wood pulp.”

Those who work or live near the site aren’t in danger because the contaminants can’t reach them. The only way they could ingest the dangerous chemicals would be if they dug a well on site and drank from it, according to DEC.

The agency is also testing the buildings on site to make sure contaminated vapor doesn’t affect the indoor air quality.

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