New York State and City take pride in being leaders and trendsetters when it comes to legislative and regulatory action to protect consumers in a number of areas, including banking and insurance and commercial transactions. But when it comes to environmental protection, there are ways in which New York seems to be seriously lagging compared to the extent of efforts in many other jurisdictions.
The latest account of a serious lapse in environmental protection in New York is the subject of a recent article published in Crain’s New York about long-known, but largely unaddressed, concerns about Perchloroethylene, or “Perc,” a solvent used in the dry cleaning of clothes for many decades. There is a lot of literature on this subject that was developed over many years of scientific study. The inquiry focused on concerns of potential health risks to those who work at dry cleaning establishments, inhale perc’s fumes and drink water that contains it high concentrations of perc from its release into drinking water aquifers and such.
According to the article and other sources, USEPA deems perc a “likely carcinogen” that can harm the liver, kidneys and blood, and the immune, reproductive and central nervous systems. In response to this and its independent scientific findings the State of California banned the use of perc in 2007. Ironically, the article reports that Jack Nicholson turned into the Joker when he fell into a vat of it in the first Batman movie. I, myself, have mediated hundreds of perc cases, both large and small, involving releases of this contaminant into the environment in other states throughout the country.
I am curious about why New York appears not to have taken a more aggressive stance related to the potential health dangers resulting from the continued use of perc, and the consequences of its historical discharges into the environment. There are always multiple views on important issues, particularly where the cause and effect of exposure to a particular toxin cannot be proven with absolute certainty. But do legislators or regulators in New York have any scientific basis for concluding that exposure to perc does not pose a material health risk contrary to what legislators in other jurisdictions have determined?
Perhaps part of the fear of taking action lies in the concern that more legislation and regulation will not solve the problem but only lead to a flood of litigation and years of gridlock in the courts. If so, I respectfully direct New York legislators’ attention to my prior blog posts explaining how effective mediation can be in streamlining the resolution of environmental disputes.
In any case, I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I do know from my practice mediating perc-related cases in many other states that judgments have been made there that the risks from perc discharges into the environment were severe enough to warrant substantial governmental and private party intervention. If an informed judgment has been made here, that perc is not as dangerous as other states and the federal government have found, that would be good news indeed.