All drycleaning businesses must comply with full implementation of the Solvent Emissions Directive (SED) by 31 October 2007.

Every establishment that uses solvents that come within the directive’s terms must be registered and monitored by its local authority.

Compliance is now mandatory for all new drycleaning installations, operating new or second hand drycleaning machines.

The directive is concerned with air pollution and sets out to eliminate unnecessary solvent emissions into the environment. It affects a large number of industries that use solvents, including drycleaning.

The solvents used by drycleaners are known generally by air pollution specialists as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). When VOCs are emitted they mix with nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere and, when there is sunlight, they react to form ground-level ozone, the brownish haze that can be seen on the horizon on summer days.

Although action is being taken to plug the ozone hole in the high atmosphere, at ground level ozone remains an unpleasant pollutant. An assessment by the Department of Health’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution estimated that in the summer of 1995 between 700 and 12,500 vulnerable people may have had their deaths “brought forward” by ozone.

The main directive requirements are that emissions of VOCs must be no more than 20grams of solvent per kilogram of clothing or other materials cleaned and dried. The directive also explains how this is to be monitored.

Permit required

The SED has already been transposed into UK law through regulations under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999. Essentially, the directive says that all drycleaners must have a permit to operate. For new drycleaners, this has applied from 1 April 2001.

Drycleaners classified as existing businesses must have obtained a permit by 31 October 2007.

If a business that started after 1 April 2001 does not already have a permit, it should contact the local authority immediately.

The local authority will be a District or Borough Council, or Unitary Authority and will be the body to which business rates are paid. Ask for the environmental health department and then speak to someone in the pollution team.

Businesses that started before 1 April 2001 will need to apply for a permit by 31 October 2006. But don’t leave this to the last moment.

Drycleaners may find that environmental health will visit in the coming months to find out what steps they are taking.

Local authorities will generally try to work with businesses over pollution control permits. Although they do not provide a free consultancy service, they will frequently offer reasonable help and advice to help get businesses through the permit process.

I would advise contacting the authority in advance to ask what they require, rather than waiting for them to track you down.

Drycleaners that obtain a permit can then expect a local authority inspection at least once a year to check that all permit conditions are being met.

There will be a charge for the permit application and for subsequent annual inspections. For 2005/2006, the charge for the application is £132 and for the inspection, £134. Charges are reviewed annually.

Giving guidance

The SED is available in full from the EU website, but drycleaners may find Defra guidance easier to understand and it explains in simple terms what is required.

In September 2004, it published Dry Cleaning, Secretary of State’s Guidance for Local Air Pollution Control and Local Authority Pollution Prevention and Control (Process Guidance Note 6/46(04). This includes both a specimen application form and a specimen permit.

The application form shows the main information required. As well as basic business details, the application asks for information such as what drycleaning machines are operated, their capacity, date of installation, and location on a plan.

It also asks what solvents are used? Where are solvents and solvent residues stored? Businesses will also need to supply information on maintenance procedures, spot cleaning, training, and the use of risk phase solvents (taken from suppliers’ packaging).

The authority will want to know how solvent use will be monitored and recorded, and how materials that are cleaned will be weighed and recorded.

The specimen permit lists the main controls that must be put in place to minimise solvent emissions. These include not exceeding the 20 gram per kilogram emission limit; keeping inventories of materials cleaned and solvents used; the operation and maintenance of equipment; and disposal of waste solvents and cleaning of spillages.

Defra will be monitoring how SED is being implemented to check that drycleaners and local authorities have all the advice they need. It is liaising with the Textile Services Association over questions arising from SED implementation.