Revised and updated standards
for fire prevention in drycleaning plants was published in December 2015 by the National
Fire Protection Association.
NFPA standards are adopted by states, cities and local
governments and affect nearly every building in the country, said Nancy A.
Pearce, the NFPA staff liaison for the committee that has been working on the
new standard for drycleaning. NFPA is a non-governmental entity that has no
enforcement power. That is up to local jurisdictions who will need to
incorporate the revised NFPA standard for their rules and regulation.
“I would encourage you to tell your governing authorities
that there is a newer version which will probably work to your advantage,”
Pearce, who oversees 18 other fire codes in addition to
drycleaning for NFPA, said the last revision was published in 2011 and when the
process began on the current revision she thought it would be simple matter.
That hasn’t been in the case.
“When I walked into the first meeting, committee chairperson
Jan Barlow, Jan’s Cleaners, said, ‘OK we’re going to fix this. This whole thing
needs to be blown up and start from scratch.’ ”
Thus began a process of out with the old and in with the new
as the 15-member committee over the course of several meetings endeavored to
develop a new fire code that reflects recent changes in solvents and equipment
in the drycleaning industry. The final document was approved by the committee
last summer with no dissenting votes.
The NFPA standard for drycleaning dates back to 1925 with
requirements based on the widespread use of combustible and flammable solvents
in the industry at that time.
“The industry is very different now than in the ’30s,”
Pearce said. “Hazards have changed significantly due to changes in equipment
When non-flammable perchloroethylene became a major industry
solvent, many of the old fire prevention requirements didn’t apply. The NFPA
standard kept some of the old language and added some new due to perc but it
wasn’t always clear that the standard that applied to flammable solvents did
not also apply to perc and in some cases cleaners ended up having to do things
that didn’t really make sense, Pearce said.
“Perc was good from a fire safety standpoint,” Pearce said.
But in the face of growing environmental regulations, there has been a trend
away from perc and back to flammable solvents, albeit ones that are less
flammable than those of the pre-perc days.
Pearce said that raises the question: Are we introducing
fire hazards again?
It’s an example of how environmental protection and fire
safety can become competing interests. When those two are in conflict, the
environment will win every time, Pearce said. Thus high-flash hydrocarbon
solvents will get the nod over inflammable perc.
As another example, she noted that freon was good from a
health and safety standpoint, but it was phased out due to environmental
With both types of solvents currently in widespread industry
use, the new standard addresses both. In addition, it accounts the different
types of equipment that are in use. “The type of solvent you use and the type
of equipment wil determine your requirements,” Pearce said.
The revised standard will better identify the type of
equipment to be used with a particular solvent to make it clear to enforcement
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 current standard identifies drycleaning plants in terms
of the solvent used, primarily based on the solvent’s flashpoint starting with
Type I with the lowest flashpoint up to Type 3, which includes current
high-flash solvents. Type IV plants are those that use a non-combustible
solvent, ie., perc.
Within those groups, the standards are further specified
based on the type of equipment.
The versions cover four equipment types, beginning with
Version 1 which is an open system using either combustible or non-combustible
solvent that is continuously open to the air — a bucket for example. That is
prohibited under the new standard.
Version II equipment is an open-circuit system using either
combustible or non-combustible solvents that releases fugitive emissions,
suppresses and controls combustion and that has fire safety controls.
Version III systems are those using either combustible or non-combustible
solvents closed loop that do not release emissions, prevents combustion and has
Versions IV systems are closed loop that use non-combustible
solvents (perc) that has safety controls and does not release emissions.
Neither Class I solvent nor Version 1 equipment would be
allowed under the NFPA standard.
Rules will be tuned to match the solvent class and equipment
As new solvents are introduced, solvent manufacturers or
suppliers would be required to provide information about the solvent and
certify the flashpoint. They also must provide operators with written
instructions on the safe use of the solvent.
Questions that need more study, Pearce said, are whether a
solvent degrades over time and its flashpoint changes and if additives to the
solvent change the flashpoint. Pearce said research on this question would have
to be supported by the industry. The new can be viewed or purchased on the NFPA
web site, www.nfpa.org/32.
While the committee is not likely to meet again for a couple
of years, Pearce said new members are welcome. Information on the committee is
also available on the web site.
The 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. Other industry members are on the committee include Jim
Douglas of GreenEarth Cleaning, Steve Langiulli of Columbia/ILSA, Mary Scalco
of DLI, Chris Tebbs of Fabricare Solutions in Canada, and Vic Williams of Union
Drycleaning Products. The committee also includes representatives from fire
safety and protection, insurance and environmental regulatory bodies.