At last year’s TSA Scottish Conference, Norman Donnelly, the specialist technical advisor to the environmental authority SEPA, warned that the drycleaning sector could face a crackdown on those businesses that fail to comply fully – or not at all – with the terms of the Solvent Emissions Directive.

SEPA’s figures for 2011 reveal an improvement over those for the previous year. On a positive note, they show that 87% of Scotland‘s businesses that come under SED regulations (including metal degreasing firms as well as drycleaners) have a licence compliance rating of excellent, good or broadly compliant.

The defaulters are only a small minority but the drycleaning industry cannot be complacent. The SED cannot be ignored – it is the law. Defaulters are breaking that law and eventually the law could impose severe penalties. Their businesses could suffer, if not fail, as a result.

SEPA has an obligation to pursue the 13% “that does not take its environmental responsibilities seriously.” Tackling the non-compliant is a priority. The crackdown may not have come yet but SEPA says it will “use a range of enforcement tools to target poorly performing sites.

“This could include prosecution where necessary”.

SEPA publishes the names of businesses with the levels of compliance on its website, so it’s relatively easy for anyone concerned to check on the status of a particular site. Insurance companies could check and refuse to do business with a cleaner that is not complying fully.

Set against the broader picture of those Scottish industries that cause pollution, the drycleaning sector is relatively low risk. SEPA recognised this when it introduced a revised inspection regime in 2011. A number of drycleaning sites will now be inspected every five years rather than every three.

The recent Sunday Herald article on pollution named the biggest polluting companies – none was a drycleaner. drycleaners. But the article still noted that 58 cleaners were cited as “failing to submit annual returns on the potentially dangerous chemicals they use to launder clothes”.

That’s only 58 out of 360 sites highlighted as failing to control pollution – disappointing perhaps.

The general public might take a harsher view. Customers may not read SEPA reports, but they may read the Sunday Herald. If they’ve already had a bad experience of drycleaning, even that small mention will underline it. Another black mark goes on the record of an industry with a poor public image.

That’s another reason why the minority MUST be made to comply.

Janet Taylor, Editor