Joy OnaschMy guest today is Joy Onasch, who oversees the community and small business program at the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She manages the community grants which are awarded each year to community-based or municipal organizations striving to reduce or eliminate toxics. Focus areas of the community and small business program currently include reducing or eliminating toxics in the home (including cleaning and building materials), pesticides, the cosmetology industry, auto shops, and perchloroethylene in dry cleaning. Today we will be talking specifically about dry cleaning, how dry cleaning establishments can become less toxic and how you can choose a less toxic dry cleaner. Joy is an engineer with over fifteen years of experience with industry, government, and institutions, assisting them with environmental compliance issues and pollution prevention projects. Her technical focus areas include hazardous waste, stormwater, wastewater, oil storage, and toxics use reduction. Joy earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Union College and a Master’s in Engineering and Policy from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a registered Professional Engineer in three states and a registered Toxics Use Reduction Planner in Massachusetts.






Can Dry Cleaning Be Less Toxic

Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: : Joy Onasch

Date of Broadcast: May 06, 2014

DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic free.
There are so many toxic chemicals around, but not everything is toxic and there are so many people who are doing things, many wonderful things to make the world less toxic and those are the people that I talk to in this show and that you get to hear. And we get to discuss how we can make this world a better place and less toxic.

Yesterday, I started reading from a book that I got recently called It Always Seem Impossible until It’s Done. It’s just a book full of quotations, inspiring quotations about getting through the difficult times to reach your goals and to do the thing that you want. And I know that sometimes it can seem difficult to make the switch to live toxic-free. So I want to be giving you some of these quotes as inspiration.

Today’s quote is from Walt Disney. We all know Walt Disney. And he says, “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Certainly, getting really sick from toxic chemicals like I did was a kick in the teeth. But what it did for me is that it made me wake up and say, “Wait a minute. There are toxic chemicals all around me and they are making me sick and they’re probably making other people sick and there are ways that I can live.” I had to find those ways way back in 1982 when nobody was writing about this.

But I found ways and things that were less toxic and I started doing them and my health started improving. And what that did is it woke me up. It made me say, “Wait a minute. There’s a danger here. There’s something I can do about it.” And I started doing something about it.

And so today, my health just gets better and better the older I get. That’s not usually the way it is, but the older I get, my health gets better and better because I am being exposed to fewer and fewer toxic things and I’m getting more nutrition to support my body’s health and my health just gets better and better.

Everybody can have the same experience. If you have any kind of health problem, toxic chemicals are probably contributing to it. And if you start removing toxic chemicals from your home, from where you work, from your body, you will likely get better. That’s been my experience.

Anyway, I’m not worried about having a difficult situation because sometimes it wakes you up to see what needs to be done so that you can have a better life.

My guest today is Joy Onasch. She oversees the community and small business programs at the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. We had one of her colleagues on before, Liz Harriman and we talked about some things that they’re doing there at the Toxics Use Reduction Institute.

But today, we’re going to talk specifically about what she’s doing in the area of cleaning and especially dry cleaning, what she’s doing with small businesses, what the Toxics Use Reduction Institute does to help small businesses swipe out toxic chemicals and use things that are more toxic-free.

Hi, Joy.

JOY ONASCH: Hi, Debra.

Thank you so much for being here with me.

JOY ONASCH: Thanks for having me.

DEBRA: Okay, so why don’t we start out by—Liz went into some of this before, but today is a new day with a new audience. So tell us what the Toxics Use Reduction Institute does.

JOY ONASCH: Sure. We are an organization at UMass Lowell as you mentioned that works with industries, small businesses, municipalities, communities, organizations to reduce the use of toxic chemicals across the state. And our information is available online to anybody anywhere who’s interested in obtaining it.

We focus on certain chemicals at certain times and also additional inquiries that come into the public or there are certain special areas that require attention, different chemicals at different times. But we provide training, we provide grants, we provide peer mentoring type working group. We have a laboratory service. We have a focus on policy research and analysis. We have a library that’s available online and for visiting if people wanted to come to UMass Lowell.

And so our main aim is to provide unbiased information about issues around toxics and alternatives that are available and work with the organizations, whether it’s a large industry or small community organization or any one in between in trying to find a feasible alternative for them to switch from the toxic chemicals. And by feasible, I mean something that’s going to work for them and something that makes economic sense for them.

DEBRA: Yeah. So it works around and win, win, win.


DEBRA: I was really interested to see in your bio that you are a registered Toxics Use Reduction Planner. What is that?

JOY ONASCH: There are many of us across the State of Massachusetts.

DEBRA: I think that’s so wonderful. I think that that’s what I am too. I’m a Toxics Use Reduction Planner. I’m not certified, but that’s what I do.

JOY ONASCH: Right. That would certainly fit in the category. Yeah. TURI actually oversees a very formal program to certify planners. It requires that industries do this thing called the Toxics Use Reduction Plan every other year.
They [inaudible 00:05:30] and report their chemical use each year and then every other year, they have to go through this planning process. And part of the planning process requires that they have a certified Toxics Use Reduction Planner stamp off on their plans essentially. They can do the plan themselves and have a Toxics Use Reduction Planner.

We view it or they can hire or train an in-house person to become that Toxics Use Reduction Planner. And it means that they have been trained by us who are with intimate with what the process should be on finding alternatives and evaluating them and then they can [inaudible 00:06:03] off on these different plans.

The really unique thing about the program is that the companies are required to do this every other year, but they’re not actually required to implement anything. It’s up to them to learn from the process and find out that there are alternatives available and hey, maybe it’s even going to save me money if I go ahead and implement them, which is often the case.

DEBRA: I want to make sure that everybody listening understands that this is required by law in the State of Massachusetts, yes?

JOY ONASCH: Right. Back in 1989, the Toxics Use Reduction Act was implemented and since then, businesses who use chemicals over certain thresholds have to report on their use and go to the [inaudible 00:06:48] process.

DEBRA: It would be wonderful if every state in the union had that law so that all manufacturers will be having to take a look at what is their toxic use. And then everybody needs to start scaling back on the toxics.

California is coming up with something similar to that, I think. But that’s another show. We’ll talk about California another day.

JOY ONASCH: Right. A couple of states have tried to emulate our program or at least parts of it. I know I’ve talked to New Jersey and New York about the community programs that I work on and I know that Canada is starting to implement the Toxics Use Reduction Planners Program that I just described. So it’s definitely emulated both within the United States and obviously internationally.

Something again that’s unique is that it’s talking about the use of toxic, whereas other federal programs deal with the release of toxics, which is too late.

DEBRA: Ah! I am so glad you brought that up because I have never even thought of that. Yes.

JOY ONASCH: Yeah, the Toxics Release Inventory asks companies to report on the releases that [inaudible 00:08:03] the environment. So our program tries to get to the reduction of toxics before they’re even used, before they even enter the workplace or the manufacturing process so that they’re not able to be released in any [inaudible 00:08:15].

DEBRA: Right. That’s even better. Joy, tell us how did you get interested in the subject of toxics. How did you get trained to be this person who can do this?

JOY ONASCH: Let’s see. I am an engineer. I’m a mechanical engineer. It’s my undergraduate degree. And I went on to get a Master’s in Engineering and Policy, which I had been focused on environmental issues.

And then I worked in private consulting for about 15 years and somehow by chance, I ended up working on a lot of regulatory and compliance issues. So I did a lot of site visits to military facilities, hospitals, universities, looking at how they were managing their hazardous waste or waste water, the oil storage and helping them write a plan required by law.

And I ended up starting to get a little frustrated with the private consulting world and looking for something else. I came across the Toxics Use Reduction Institute and that’s what helped. It’s a job opening actually. It’s what helped me realize that I had been working with organizations to manage the waste and the toxics that they were using. But this was an opportunity to work with them, to reduce the use of it in the first place.

It gave a very different perspective, a very different way of working with people instead of pushing them into compliance and helping them with their compliance needs. I’m able to help them be more proactive in getting rid of the use of the toxic chemicals in the first place.

DEBRA: Yes. And when you do that, get rid of the toxic chemicals in the first place, then there’s no need for compliance because there’s nothing there that needs to be complied with.

We need to take a break. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Joy Onasch from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. My guest today is Joy Onasch from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Before the break, we were talking about you being a Toxics Use Reduction Planner. Could you just say a few words about how you might apply what you do with businesses to consumers, how we can use that same structure to think about reducing our toxics use?

JOY ONASCH: Sure. I guess for either small businesses or organizations or institutions or the personal consumers, it’s about understanding what you’re using and what you’re exposed to each day and thinking about making changes and investigating what other alternatives are out there that are feasible for you that perform in the same way that you are used to having something perform for you or being economically feasible for you to use.

We take the same approach, whether it’s a large corporation or a small entity that’s interested in finding alternatives and used to use the toxics. But I guess the first step really is doing an inventory about what you use or what you’re maybe exposed to, what services you use and toxic chemicals you may be exposed there and evaluating what alternatives may fit.

DEBRA: I think that that is so intelligent because I think that a lot of times for people, it seems overwhelming.

I wrote a book in 1984. My first published book in 1984 was just a directory of the non-toxic products that I could find at the time. I’d just like to say that the number of nontoxic options that are available now is so huge, it wouldn’t fit in a book. That’s why I have a website. And that’s how much we’ve improved in the last 30 years.

But I remember at the time, people would say, “Oh, I feel overwhelmed. Where do I start?” And so I wrote another book called The Nontoxic Home, which didn’t have any resources in it at all. It just said, “All right, let’s take a look at where the toxic chemicals are and what you’re being exposed to and what type of things are the alternatives.

I suppose that book was the book that was comparable to your inventory. But I think that right now today, that book isn’t available. I don’t have an equivalent book like that. But I’m looking at how I can provide that information in an organized way on my website so that somebody could look up shampoo and find out what toxic chemicals they might be exposed to. But I think that it is a good idea.

In that book, what I tried to do was organize the products from most toxic first to least toxic. And so some things at the beginning of the book were things like cleaning products and pesticides that are really toxic. And I was encouraging people to take the most toxic things that they could identify and replace those first. And I think that that’s probably the strategy across the boards.

JOY ONASCH: Absolutely. And also factoring in there, maybe what’s most approachable, especially for a consumer that it might be overwhelming for them to think about how to make one change with something else that seems real simple to them and I can go ahead and implement it. If making those small, low-hanging fruit changes gives them some confidence and some knowledge in where the resources are to make additional changes, that can assist as well.

DEBRA: Yeah. I always say start with whatever appeals to you, even if it’s buying organic pickles. Every time we go to the store, we’re making a choice. And I’m not expecting people to suddenly buy everything toxic-free particularly because there’s a certain amount of education that goes with it.

But if you can identify something like if you really like to eat, that’s probably a good place to start. It’s to just start buying organic food and then you’ve done something. Or it’s actually pretty easy to change cleaning products because you can just start using baking soda and vinegar and that will clean almost everything.

Even if you just go down to the natural food store and just pick any cleaning product off the shelf, it’s better than buying it at the supermarket. And anybody can do that.


DEBRA: Okay, so the show is being about dry cleaning and I know that you’re working with dry cleaners. So let’s talk about that.

JOY ONASCH: Sure, sure. Yeah, so talking about making choices. If someone is in a profession or just in their lives, they don’t have time to do all their cleaning or they have special cleaning needs, they need to take stuff to the dry cleaners. The choice they can make is to search out a dry cleaner who is using alternative methods, not using the standard perchloroethylene solvent to clean their clothes.

DEBRA: So tell us, what are the health effects of using perchloroethylene? And are there other toxic chemicals? Why should people not be using this?

JOY ONASCH: Yeah. There are a couple of different levels of issues. But people who are exposed can have acute exposure issues or chronic exposure issues.

It is classified, under the US National Toxicology Program, as a reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists it as probably carcinogenic to humans.

And the other shorter term issues could be skin irritation, nausea, headaches, exacerbation of asthma, that type of an issue.

So those who are going to be most exposed are the people who are going to work with it most directly and that’s likely the people in the dry cleaning shop who are putting it into their machine and taking it out, cleaning the filters on the machines, opening the doors five or six times a day, depending on how many loads they do.

And then the consumer will have less exposure certainly, but it has been studied that PERC or perchloroethylene does come home on clothes that have been put through the solvent in the dry cleaning process. As the clothes come out of the machine, they get pressed and they get bagged in plastic bags and it comes home once you take the bag off in your closet or in your house. So the PERC is coming out of those clothes.

And they have put in place a law at the federal level, coming into play in 2020 where dry cleaning shops that use PERC are not going to be allowed in residential facilities anymore. And that’s because it has been studied that PERC is actually getting out from the shop and getting up into the residences that are above them.

DEBRA: Also you mean where there’s a dry cleaning shop on the ground floor of an apartment building or something like that?

JOY ONASCH: Right, which is mostly in the big cities. Even less so, not even in [inaudible 00:17:24] like that, but it did push the federal, EPA, to look at it and to put [inaudible 00:17:33]. So there are a couple of different ways of exposure for the public as well.

DEBRA: Good. We need to take another break and when we come back, we’ll talk more about dry cleaning with Joy Onasch from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Joy Onasch from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

During the breaks, what I do is I check my emails just because people sometimes email me with questions. Somebody emailed. In fact, if you have a question and you want to email me during this show, you can go to and use the contact form there and it will come straight to me and I’ll check it during the break.

But I got an email from one of my readers. One of the things that I do is I send out an inspiring quote every morning and a reader had written back to me thanking me for this particular quote. And it was, “The biggest problem in the world could have been solved when it was small.” And that’s from Lao Tzu from Ancient China.

That’s so, so, so true with toxics. It’s so true because if we look and recognize that there’s a problem and do something about it before it turns into a really big problem, it’s so much easier to take care of and it really makes a huge difference. That’s not to say that it’s just a little problem because little problems turn into big problems.

Okay, Joy. So tell us about the different kinds of alternatives we have to using toxic dry cleaning. Within a dry cleaning industry, what you do is you help different businesses replace their toxic chemicals with not toxic chemicals. So what kinds of things are dry cleaning places using now that are less toxic?

JOY ONASCH: There are several different alternatives out there on the market. Probably the most popular is hydrocarbon based alternative that people have been switching to. It seems to do the job fairly well for them. The cost is fairly comparable for them compared to the regularly used solvent perchloroethylene.

The health issues and the environmental issues may not be as bad as the other alternatives out there. There is an issue with sustainability of it. But nonetheless, it’s been a very popular, easy to use, easy to learn replacement for PERC.

There are a few other alternatives out there in the market. One is acetals based. One is propylene-glycol ethers based. One is siloxane based. I’m a mechanical engineer, not a chemist, so I’m not going to go into exactly what the chemistries of these different alternatives are.

But I guess it suffices to say that TURI has done an analysis of these different alternatives and compared them all literally side by side, looking at their technical performance, their financial aspects, environmental and human health safety, regulatory issues.

And what has come out on top are two other ones that I haven’t mentioned. Carbon dioxide, which actually hasn’t gotten a lot of traction because the equipment is very expensive even though it’s a very clean way of cleaning clothes. But the other one is called professional wet cleaning and that’s the one that’s at the top of our evaluation as well as other organizations that have done similar evaluations.

So that’s the technology and the process that we work with cleaners in Massachusetts to help switch. We like to make the information available to them about these other alternatives.

But we have a bit of a budget that we’re able to financially assist with grant facilitates. And since that budget is limited, we choose to put our money towards the professional wet cleaning technology and assisting the facilities to switch over to that.

And not only does it rise to the top of the pile in those criteria elements that I mentioned, but if a shop switches from a solvent-based system to a professional wet cleaning system entirely, not using any other methods, they will save a lot of money on their energy bills, potentially their water bills, their health insurance, their medical bills.

We’ve had a lot of information about people just feeling so much better. Their employees are out sick much less, but again the electricity bills can be cut in half. We’ve seen it in some facilitates. And the water bills can be cut in half. We’ve seen it in some facilities.

It depends on what equipment they were using and what they’re switching to, how much of an impact they see. But it’s really made a big difference in their operating cost.

We’ve seen paybacks between two and four years generally, which is pretty significant and pretty fast for a small busies like a dry cleaner that depends on public coming and going and bringing their clothes to them. It’s not always that a small business like that in the service industry would get such a quick payback.

DEBRA: I’d like you to explain what professional wet cleaning is. I think that most people don’t understand that what’s called dry cleaning is actually wet because it uses solvents.

And so if they’re taking in for professional wet cleaning now, they’ve got clothing with tags in it that says, “Dry clean only.” So explain what cleaning is. And is it okay to take in your dry clean only clothes?

JOY ONASCH: Right. Just a side note there, we’re actually working with the Federal Trade Commission. Right now, they have a proposed amendment to their Care Labeling Rule out right now that we’ve given comments to, to hopefully change that care label in garments to make it easier for the dry cleaners and for the consumers to understand what can and can’t be done with that cleaning, with that garment.

In the meantime though, yes, if a cleaner feels comfortable with using the professional wet cleaning system on something that says dry clean only, we have cleaners across Massachusetts now doing that. So if they’re trained and they’re knowledgeable in what they’re doing, there won’t be a problem.

DEBRA: Okay. So what is the process of wet cleaning?

JOY ONASCH: Right. It’s not your home laundry machine. We need to make that clear from the beginning.

DEBRA: Okay, good. It’s not just the cleaner throwing it in their laundry.

JOY ONASCH: Exactly. And if someone has a really nice wool suit, just don’t go throw it in your laundry machine instead.

So it is a several steps process that begins with a computer controlled washing machine, which has a detergent pumping system hooked to the back of it. So the cleaner will purchase certain different types of detergents, conditioners, softeners and other additives that get added to the pumping system.

The machine is computer-controlled and it’s programmed to have different programs run on it. So they might press one and it’s a wool jacket program. They might press two and it’s a silk cloth program. They can program, I don’t know, at least 50 programs. It’s in different machines for how different they want it to be. I’ve seen typically they only use 7 to 10 maybe different programs.

Anyway, so then the detergent, the other additives come into the pumping system and mixed with the water and the machine before either the water or the detergent touch the clothing, which is different than your home machine. Either your water comes in first or the detergent dumped on it first. So this mixture of the detergent, additives and your water creates its own solvent essentially to act on the clothes once the clothes are immersed in it.

So that’s the high tech end of the washer. Then at the end of the program, which only lasts 12 to 15 minutes maybe in the washer, it then goes to a dryer.

And the key on the dryer is that it needs to have what’s called a residual moisture control on it. That means that you can either time the dryer to end at the right time or you can program it to end with a certain amount of moisture left in your clothes.

And following the drying process, it goes on to what’s called [inaudible 00:26:07] equipment where the pieces go back on a form finisher and the clothes are pulled and steam blown through them to help them regain their shape and to get out the initial wrinkles in it. And then they’re touched up using pressing equipment.

DEBRA: Very interesting process. We need to take another break, but we’ll be back. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Joy Onasch from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. We’ll be right back.


DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Joy Onasch from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

I’m so used to saying the University of California. I had to stop for a second and say University of Massachusetts.So anything else you want to tell us about dry cleaning?

JOY ONASCH: Let’s see. I just think that maybe your audience is probably going to be consumers of the service, of dry cleaning.


JOY ONASCH: So something that we have tried to work towards is educating the consumers that there are alternatives out there and suggesting that the more they inquire with their dry cleaner as to what they use, the more awareness the dry cleaners will have that there’s an interest and a need from the consumers for them to seek out alternatives.

There are only so many ways we can reach out to the public. We can’t go knock on every single person’s door. So the more ways we can educate the public about that.

Oftentimes when I talk to groups about different ways of reducing toxic chemicals, I suggest that they take home one little piece of homework or one little change to make. And I often suggest that the next time they go to the dry cleaner, simply ask that they can be told what is being used at the facility and even make the suggestion that, “Hey, have you looked into this professional wet cleaning? I’ve heard about it. I’m sure you’ll really get some terrific benefits out of it.”

DEBRA: If somebody wanted to find a professional wet cleaner in their community because people listen to this show actually all over the world, how would they find one? Is there a website that lists them?

JOY ONASCH: Unfortunately, there’s not a really reliable consolidated spot to go to. The EPA does list some on their website, but I found it to be very out of date.

DEBRA: Yeah.

JOY ONASCH: There are different makers of other alternatives that will list users of their alternative. For example, a siloxane material called Green Earth, if you go to their website, they list all the dry cleaners that use their particular alternatives.

And our website lists the wet cleaners that we worked with in Massachusetts to convert to dedicated wet cleaning. But if someone in Montana is interested in finding someone in their town, I’m afraid I don’t have a resource for them, except to go and explore and talk to the different dry cleaners in their area.

And one note of question I would give them is that if a dry cleaner has a sign outside that says, “Organic, environmentally friendly, earth friendly, back to nature,” or something like that, it’s actually often a red flag that they’re using one of the alternatives, but not professional wet cleaning.

DEBRA: Oh, that’s very good because I actually have a cleaner down the street from me that has one of those signs. I thought, “Oh, good,” but I didn’t go in and ask them.

Here’s my solution to dry cleaning. I haven’t dry-cleaned anything in 30 years.

JOY ONASCH: Yes. That’s the other alternative.

DEBRA: Yeah. When I found that you bring your clothes in front of a dry cleaner and they give out perchloroethylene, I decided I didn’t want to breed that in my house.

Here’s one thing you can do. If you can’t get to a dry cleaner that is less toxic and you absolutely have to dry clean your clothes, when you bring them home, hang them up outside on the patio or in your garage or someplace not in the living space, take the plastic bag off and let it air out not in your living space. So that’s the first thing.

JOY ONASCH: Exactly. And also to follow up on the issue with the green friendly signs that people will put out, if that is the alternative available to you in your community, it certainly may very well be better than another cleaner may be using. If you can’t find a professional wet cleaner to clean your clothes using one of these other alternatives, [inaudible 00:30:39] certainly be a very valuable alternative.

DEBRA: Yes. Yes. So then the other thing is that what I did was I just decided that I would make choices about the clothes that I wear that don’t require dry cleaning. And I wear mostly just cotton and linen. And in the wintertime—I live in Florida and I’m not working in an office, so I don’t have to wear wool suits or something like that. But I have a few sweaters and things that I just wash by hand.

I don’t know what I’d do if I had an expensive wool suit. But there are a lot of clothes that you can buy. You can buy linen jackets. I look for cotton jackets. I look professional enough for what I do with my life. And I can look pretty professional wearing cotton and linen clothes that don’t have to go to the dry cleaners.

And I just make those choices really, really carefully and then I wash everything in the washing machine. And if I really have to look crisp, you can just take your clothes down to a dry cleaning place and they can just iron it for you with a professional iron and it looks like you had it dry-cleaned.

JOY ONASCH: Right, exactly.

DEBRA: If that’s what you mean.

JOY ONASCH: It’s amazing what they can do with a presser.

DEBRA: Yeah, they can do things there with a presser that you can’t do at home.

JOY ONASCH: Exactly.

DEBRA: Yeah.

JOY ONASCH: There are definitely other ways to seek out alternative methods and processes. Yes.

DEBRA: Yeah. And you could also look for—Google is really good at finding local things now. And so you could just type in the name of your city and what cleaning and if there’s a wet cleaner, it should probably come up.

JOY ONASCH: Yeah, the trick is that a lot of the wet cleaners don’t yet advertise themselves as wet cleaners. They’re a little bit worried that the public will think that that means they’re just putting it in the laundry machine or think that they can do it at home.

Each cleaner that I’ve worked with in Massachusetts has taken a slightly different approach. Several of them have promoted the fact that they’re doing professional wet cleaning. Some of them wait until at least a year has gone by, that the consumers are still very happy with how their clothes are being cleaned and the cleaner feels very comfortable with the process and then they finally say, “Hey. Guess what. I’ve been cleaning your clothes in water for the last year. Don’t they smell great and look great?”

So sometimes, they don’t put themselves out there as doing wet cleaning because they’re afraid of how the consumers are going to interpret that language.

DEBRA: That’s a good point. There’s so much education that goes on with this because we have ideas about what words mean and then new technologies come up and we do need to learn the new technologies and consumers do need to be educated.

There need to be a shift. This is one of the things that I’ve talked to a lot of people about. I’ll say to a manufacturer, “Why don’t you make whatever it is less toxic?” And they’ll say, “Because I have to be able to make it in a way that my consumer wants it.”

And it’s not that consumers want toxic products, except that we’re so accustomed to how things are that are toxic.

JOY ONASCH: The performance.

DEBRA: The performance. I’ll just use as an example when I first started removing toxic chemicals from my life, I had found the perfect shade of red lipstick. It took me years to find this perfect shade and I finally got it and then I decided to remove toxic chemicals from my life and I went, “Wait a minute. No, no, no, no, no, we’re not giving up the red lipstick.”

And it really took me a while to really get how toxic that red dye was and everything else, the [inaudible 00:34:36] and everything that was in that red lipstick and then I was eating it and licking my lips and everything and then I was getting so much toxic exposure. And finally, I could get the picture that there was a skull and cross bones on my lips about that lipstick and I stopped using it.

But I found over the years that the easiest thing to do is to go find the nontoxic alternative and find something you like and get the replacement first and see that there’s a replacement and then you can let go of the old toxic thing.

JOY ONASCH: Right. That makes for a very simple approach.

DEBRA: Sometimes it is hard to let go of what is something that you’ve been comfortable with even if it is toxic.


DEBRA: This has been an excellent show, Joy. Thank you so much for being on. We just have two and a fifth. Is there anything else you want to tell us about dry cleaning or TURI or living toxic-free?

JOY ONASCH: Let’s see. I guess to give a quick summary of the full program that I run here is the Community and Small Business Program. So I run a grant program. If there are any Massachusetts listeners, we welcome applications from community organizations and municipalities and small businesses who are interested in getting some grant money to help them implement a project to reduce the toxic chemicals, whether it’s in dry cleaning or pesticides and lawn care or house cleaners.

We have a whole list of projects on our website that have been done in the past to give you ideas. We have up to $20,000 available for large projects and $10,000 for smaller local projects.

And then my program also covers other small business sectors. I’ve been working with auto shops to reduce the use of solvent cleaners and nail salons to find alternatives to the toxic chemicals that they may use and limit their exposure.

There’s obviously much more on our website at And a lot of our program information can be found under the Home and Community tab. And the information about the dry cleaner is actually under our small business section.

DEBRA: Oh yeah, tell me where to look—I have the site right in front of me. Tell me where to look exactly and I’ll go there. Can you tell me exactly how to get there?

JOY ONASCH: Yeah. About the dry cleaning?

DEBRA: Yeah.

JOY ONASCH: If you go to the homepage and then go under Our Work and go to Business.

DEBRA: Our Work. Business. Okay.

JOY ONASCH: And then Small Businesses and Dry Cleaning. It’s varied. You can also just type in and it will get you there.

DEBRA: Oh, okay, good.

JOY ONASCH: It’s a shorter way to do it. But there’s information there about Massachusetts cleaners’ switch. And we have written up several case studies. We collect data from the dry cleaners and their performance and their cost from using solvent to using the wet cleaning. A bunch of our case studies that we’ve written up from that data are on our website if people are interested.

And there’s lots of information there that people can print out and take to their dry cleaners the next time they go by and ask what they use. They can take the information to help…

DEBRA: Joy, you’re breaking up. It’s also the end of the show. So I’m going to say thank you and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio. You can go to to find out more. Be well.