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Dry cleaning facilities in New Jersey tend to be operated as small family businesses. Often, these businesses are thinly financed. As a result, they can lack the substantial resources needed to ensure that environmental safeguards are in place so that contaminants are not released into environment—including groundwater and drinking water. In New Jersey, many dry cleaning facilities have experienced releases of dry cleaning fluids, and contamination from these releases has put nearby residences and businesses at risk of illness and depression of their property values.
Dry cleaning fluids generally consist of a chemical known as perchloroethylene, or PCE. This chemical is also known as tetrachloroethylene. While PCE has been commonly used as a dry cleaning fluid, it also has many other applications. PCE and its close cousin TCE (also known as trichloroethylene) are chlorinated solvents that have been used in New Jersey for decades. PCE, TCE and other chlorinated solvents have been used in various industrial applications, including in the manufacture of glues, adhesives, and other specialty chemicals. Spills and releases of PCE, TCE and other chlorinated solvents may result in harm to the environment. These chemicals may be stored in tanks at industrial facilities, and these tanks may leak, resulting in discharges to soil, and ultimately groundwater. Groundwater contaminated by PCE, TCE and other chlorinated solvents can travel short or long distances, and may impact homes, businesses and water supplies in its path.
Over the years, dry cleaning technology has improved such that it no longer represents the kind of environmental threat that it once did. Still, there are many older dry cleaners situated throughout New Jersey from which the release of PCE is a possibility. Often, releases of PCE and dry cleaning fluids are not detected for decades after they initially occur, allowing the material to spread great distances and potentially affect more individuals, businesses and communities. This is also true of releases of PCE, TCE and other chlorinated solvents from other industrial users of the chemicals. Oftentimes, releases of chlorinated solvents and other chemicals are not detected until years or decades after the release has occurred.
Even relatively small amounts of these chemicals can contaminate vast amounts of groundwater and drinking water. Contamination from PCE, TCE, its degradation products (including vinyl chloride) and other chlorinated compounds can be very difficult to remove from the environment, especially once it reaches groundwater or drinking water sources. Characteristics peculiar to these chemicals create challenge remediation scenarios, thereby presenting long-term health risks for individuals and businesses residing or operating in the vicinity of a release.
PCE, TCE, other chlorinated solvents and their degradation products (including vinyl chloride) can cause serious illness if they are released into drinking water supplies, or if they are emitted into the air or into stormwater systems. Certain chlorinated solvents are known, probable or possible human carcinogens—meaning that they may cause cancer in people. In addition, PCE TCE, vinyl chloride and other chlorinated compounds are responsible for a list of many other kinds of personal injuries.
In addition to personal injury claims, lawyers representing individuals harmed by PCE and TCE must also consider issues such as vapor intrusion and property diminution. Vapor intrusion occurs when solvents such as PCE and TCE are released through cracks in the foundation and fill the living space of victims exposing them to these chemicals. While we knew little about vapor intrusion twenty years ago, science and regulations have caught up and now many cleanups require vapor intrusion analysis.
The environmental lawyers at Lieberman & Blecher have represented many individuals and communities that have been exposed to PCE, TCE, vinyl chloride and other chlorinated and toxic substances throughout New Jersey. Our environmental lawyers have litigated cases involving groundwater contamination, drinking water contamination, natural resource damages, and vapor intrusion as a result of TCE, PCE and other similar chemicals. These cases require law firms with experience with environmental contamination, familiarity with the hydrogeologic issues associated with these releases, and intimate knowledge of the potential damages—including personal injury and property damages—that are associated with these environmental discharges.