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Fire safety rules are under review
Advances in drycleaning equipment and the types of solvents used are being considered by
the
National Fire Protection Association as it revises its NFPA Standard 32 which is designed to
ensure fire prevention and safety in drycleaning plants.
NFPA’s Technical Committee on Textile and Garment Care Processes is considering a full
rewrite of the existing NFPA 32.
An article in the NFPA Journal noted that stricter regulations on perc use regulations have
prompted the industry to look at alternative solvents, a significant technological shift with
important ramifications for NFPA 32, NFPA said.
“While this has led to innovative new technologies, including the use of wetcleaning methods
that use no solvents, it has also in some cases, led the industry away from nonflammable
solvents and back to its roots: the use of combustible solvents, including high-flashpoint
hydrocarbons, acetal, propylene glycol ethers, and siloxanes,” NFPA said. “Many of these
replacement solvents include flashpoints ranging from 140° F to 171° F.”
The current standard identifies drycleaning plants in terms of the solvent used, primarily
based on the solvent’s flashpoint. Equipment safety rules cover pumps and piping, filters and
drycleaning machines. The rule also covers maintenance, construction, and building services.
Nancy Pearce, staff liaison for NFPA 32, said the requirements of the new document will be
based not only on the class of solvent, but also on equipment. The revised standard will better
identify the type of equipment to be used with a particular solvent to make it clear to
authorities what type of fire protection is required.
For example, the revised standard will recognize the differences between closed-loop and
open-circuit systems. Closed-loop systems have fewer fire protection requirements than open
systems since there is less chance for the creation of fugitive emissions.
The standard is also expected to expand the facility maintenance requirements and update
training and work practices for employees.
Building construction requirements could also be modified to take into consideration the type
of solvent and equipment used.
A new chapter will be added to differentiate between Type IV machines — those that use
perc — and Type IVA — machines that use solvents such as carbon dioxide.
“While there are existing storage requirements for the use of liquid carbon dioxide,
requirements for the safe use of carbon dioxide in drycleaning do not currently exist, Pearce
wrote.
The NFPA Standard has evolved over the years since the first edition of NFPA 32 was
adopted in 1925, soon after the development of Stoddard solvent which had a higher
flashpoint than previous solvents.
Fire hazards and the difficulty of procuring insurance were factors in the industry switching
to perc.
NFPA noted that in 1935 when there were 57,000 drycleaning plants in the U.S. there were
about 1,100 fires annually. Two thirds of the fires occurred in plants that used gasoline or
naphtha as cleaning solvents. Interestingly, NFPA said, its records show about the same
number of fires occurred annually in drycleaning plants during the 2007 to 2011 period.
The current version of the standard was issued in 2011. The technical committee is
scheduled to post its first draft report in September which will be followed by a two-month
comment period. A second draft is scheduled for publication in July of next year.
The technical committee is chaired by Jan Barlow, a past president of the Drycleaning and
Laundry Institute and owner of Jan’s Professional Dry Cleaners in Michigan. Six other industry
members are on the committee — Jim  Douglas of GreenEarth Cleaning, Steve Languilli of
Columbia/ILSA, Mary Scalco of DLI, Chris Tebbs of Fabricare Solutions in Canada, Vic Williams
of Union Drycleaning Products and Bob Blacker of R. R. Street & Co. Inc. The committee also
includes representatives from fire safety and protection, insurance and environmental
regulatory bodies.
NFPA is not necessarily the last word on fire safety regulations. State and local jurisdictions
can adopt the code as-is or with local amendments. Some jurisdictions opt to follow the
International Fire Code. In the past drycleaners have run into conflicts between NFPA and IFC,
particularly in regard to use of sprinkler systems in plants with high-flash solvents. That
particular conflict was resolved several years ago, at least in California.