Starting in the mid-1990’s the dry cleaning industry in Wisconsin began to lobby state legislatures to develop an environmental response program that would encourage members of the industry to participate actively in the cleanup of their own facilities. The result of such efforts culminated in the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Program (DERP), an industry-led initiative established in 1997 and implemented by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Under the DERP, members of the fabric care industry designed a Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Fund (the Fund) to help cover costs associated with the investigation and remediation of chemical pollution caused by dry cleaning solvents. The program is funded by the collection of an annual license fee based on 1.8% of the revenues from a dry cleaning operation, and a solvent fee on the sale of dry cleaning solvents. Owners and operators of dry cleaning facilities (as well as their agents) are eligible for reimbursement from the Fund.
DERP has been particularly successful in streamlining compliance with DNR’s NR 700 cleanup rule series. As all cleanups conducted under the program must comply with the NR 700—an extensive list of response actions dealing with groundwater contamination—such clarification of the compliance process has been extremely beneficial. There are three types of response actions that are reimbursable from the Fund: immediate action costs, interim action costs and remedial action costs (including site investigations). Immediate Action is a response taken within a short period of time after the discharge of a hazardous substance occurs; interim Action Definition is a response action taken to contain or stabilize a discharge of a hazardous substance in order to minimize further environmental threats and remedial action is taken to control, minimize or eliminate the damage of environmental contaminants. The maximum award for immediate and remedial response actions is $500,000 per facility and $20,000 for interim actions. In addition to cleanup requirements, the program requires adherence to a number of specific statutory requirements related to preventing future releases of dry cleaning solvent to the environment.
To date, there are 335 licensed dry cleaners in Wisconsin. Approximately 24 reimbursement applications have been received by DNR, totaling over $1.2 million in response action costs. Similar funds are now found in Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas and Washington. All of these programs are aiding the dry cleaning industry to act in accordance with state regulations in a timely and effective manner. Additionally, in response to all of the problems associated with perchloroetylene—a carcinogenic dry cleaning solvent that has been linked to groundwater and air contamination—the industry has begun to produce new technologies for the cleaning delicate fabrics. As with the Dry Cleaner Environmental Response Program, such technological advances illustrate the advantages of industry driven initiatives.