carcinogen
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carcinogen

Zantac heartburn medicine are seen at a store in Mountain View, California on Oct. 1, 2019. Yichuan Cao / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By C. Michael White

When consumers get a prescription drug from the pharmacy, they assume that it's been tested and is safe to use. But what if a drug changes in harmful ways as it sits on the shelf or in the body?

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Environmental Working Group

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared tetrachloroethylene, or PERC, a chemical used by many dry cleaners, a “likely human carcinogen.”

"The evidence against this ubiquitous dry cleaning chemical piled up for years, like dirty laundry in the corner of the room," said David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group (EWG). "It’s encouraging that EPA is completing this assessment so that health measures can be taken to protect workers and the public."

The EPA’s decision is based on the 2010 recommendation of the National Research Council, an independent scientific body that advises the federal government.

Tetrachloroethylene is a chlorinated solvent long used in dry cleaning, industrial cleaning and production of other chemicals and consumer products. Biomonitoring surveys have detected it in the bodies of a significant number of Americans. It has also been found in drinking water across the country and at EPA Superfund hazardous waste sites.

Once in the environment, the chemical breaks down into other known human carcinogens, including trichloroethylene (TCE) and vinyl chloride.

Consumers should take their dry cleaning to businesses that do not use tetrachloroethylene. The substance can remain on clothes and evaporate into the air at home, unnecessarily exposing the residents.

EWG’s Tap Water Database can be searched to identify local tap water where tetrachloroethylene has been found.

For more information, click here.

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