The dirtiest way to get clean


Who knows how it started? Maybe a young Roman soiled himself in his sleep and awoke to find that the previous night’s wine stains had miraculously disappeared from the midsection of his toga. Either way, it was the beginning of dry cleaning, and it came from a dirty place — urine.

The truth is, not all that much has changed. The industry decided to replace human and animal waste with chemicals, but the result of dry cleaning that dapper suit is still hazardous.

So when Loveland started to redevelop its downtown area a few years ago, city planners knew one of its proposed building sites, a dry cleaning facility called Leslie the Cleaner, should at least undergo a preliminary environmental assessment.

The results were to be expected, according to Tracy Turner-Naranjo, environmental compliance administrator for the City of Loveland. The city did a more thorough analysis and found soil and groundwater contamination.

One of the culprits, common with many dry cleaning sites, was Perchloroethylene, also known as Perc at dry-cleaning industry cocktail parties. The chemical is on the EPA’s hazardous air contaminant list, but the Leslie site hasn’t been flagged for air contamination.

According to Ted Lanzano, brownfields project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, these cleanups are rather common with dry cleaning sites.

“The solvent used in dry cleaning is incredibly fast moving and goes through cement and soil,” says Lanzano. “So, yes, this is a fairly common cleanup.”

Lanzano couldn’t say for certain how many dry cleaning sites his program had seen, but says they made up a substantial portion of small-scale EPA environmental cleanups.

It’s pretty much a given with older dry cleaning sites.

In 2004, Boulder conducted an environmental assessment of Art Cleaners (1717 15th St.), after the business moved to a new location, and found high concentrations of Perchloroethylene at the site, which had leaked into the area’s groundwater.

According to Art Cleaners, Perc is no longer used at the new site. Art Cleaners converted to the GreenEarth Cleaning system, an alternative to Perc that, when released into the soil, degrades into sand.

But Perc was definitely used at Leslie the Cleaners, and to make matters worse, the prior business to occupy the space wasn’t the cleanest.

“Historically, the site was used as a filling station,” says Turner-Naranjo.

The estimated soil and groundwater cleanup in Loveland was priced at $555,800, which needed to come from the city’s budget.

Loveland was not only able to secure more than half the cost through Colorado’s Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund, which Lanzano helped secure, but was able to get a better price for the lot from the owner.

“The property owner was not in a position to clean up the site,” says Turner-Naranjo. “So we were able to negotiate the price.”

The Brownfields Loan is funded through EPA grants, according Lanzano, and all told will supply $313,000 of the total bill. The remainder of the cost will be covered by the city’s budget.

After the site has been demolished and cleaned up, the city will determine the function of the land based on what adjacent sites, which the city has also purchased, will become.

“It could be mixed use or residential by the end,” says Turner-Naranjo. “We also need a place for people to park.”

So Leslie the Cleaner, which looks more like a quaint old 1950s diner than a contamination site, will be wiped from Loveland’s downtown area later this year, according to Lanzano.

“This is land recycling at its best,” says Lanzano. “Sometimes cleanup funding like this is really hard to find, but not in this case.”

The grant funding seemed to fall in line perfectly with Loveland’s redevelopment plans, according to Turner- Naranjo.

“It seems to be a win-win,” says Turner-Naranjo. “The state wants it cleaned up, and the city wants to redevelop it.”

And if the site does become a parking lot after all, what started thousands of years ago in Rome could come around full circle when some unwitting man is forced to relieve himself next to his vehicle before making the long drive back home.

It just might be the catalyst for something that changes the world. Respond: