Minneapolis is now the first major city in America to banish a toxic dry-cleaning chemical, meaning that taking your suits to the cleaners no longer means dousing them with a potential carcinogen.
The city of Minneapolis has been pushing for dry cleaners to replace perchloroethylene for the past six years, and last year persuaded four dry cleaners to replace the chemical with a safer, hydrocarbon solvent.
Arif Osman, owner of Osman Cleaners on Hennepin Avenue in south Minneapolis, was the last holdout.
"We didn't mean to hold the title of the last cleaner to use 'perc,' but due to the financial difficulties, it just so happened that it worked out this way," Osman said.
His family has owned the business since 1988.
Osman got $20,000 from the city, $15,000 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and $5,000 each from the East Isles Resident Association and Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association to help him replace his dry-cleaning machines.
The funds for the program come from pollution control fees that businesses pay to the city and the franchise fee increase passed by the City Council last fall.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Council President Lisa Bender toured the business and posed for pictures with Osman next to the machine, which was installed by E. Weinberg, a St. Louis Park supply and equipment company, on New Year's Day.
"Perc is a nasty carcinogen that causes damage to your liver and kidneys and our children in the city of Minneapolis, and Minneapolis is now the first city in the country to go entirely perc-free, and that's something to celebrate," Frey said.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies perchloroethylene as a "likely carcinogen." Perc is used in industrial settings as a de-greaser and does a good job of taking grease stains out of clothing, said David Weinberg, who installed the replacement machine. But the new hydrocarbon solvent is gentler on clothes and the environment.
A 2015 Minneapolis Health Department study detected 99 occasions of perchloroethylene above levels that are considered a health risk over a long period of time in outdoor, ambient air in Minneapolis.
Pollution officials have identified hundreds of sites across the state with toxic vapor rising from soils contaminated decades ago by industrial solvents, and early last year began rolling out a new set of rules requiring property owners to test for vapors and address them before transferring property.
In Minnesota, the main sources of contamination are dry-cleaning fluids and metal degreasers discarded or spilled by businesses. The chemicals can continue to generate fumes long after the businesses close.