HIGHTOWER: Clean Clothes, Clean Air

The greatest thing about America ... is Americans!

Meet John Henderson and his family: environmental entrepreneurs. John's 18-year old daughter worked at a dry cleaners and would come home suffering from headaches, complaining about the smell of the fluid she worked with. You get a whiff of that fluid too, every time you pick up your clothes from the cleaners. It's a toxic chemical called perchlorethylene, and it's linked to cancer. One whiff won't hurt you, but perc is a toxic that doesn't dissipate -- each whiff stays in your body, accumulating until, if you take enough whiffs, it can make you deathly ill.

Worried about his daughter, John began to do some digging and came across a "new" technology called "wet cleaning," which really is an updated version of what cleaners did before chemicals took over the industry years ago. Wet cleaning is the art of discerning what has soiled the clothes (grease, perspiration, spaghetti sauce, beer, or whatever), then applying the right biodegradable soap or de-greaser to the garment, gently washing it at the proper temperature for that particular material, then gently drying it.

John Henderson not only read about wet cleaning, he acted on it. With his son Wesley, he got a small business loan and, in 1997, they opened the first professional wet-cleaning franchise in Austin: the "Ecomat." Three years later, the Ecomat is working out financially for these entrepreneurs, but it's also a boon for customers -- clothes get cleaner and last longer, since there's no harsh chemicals that strip the natural oils out of the fiber. Also, since there's no need for the expensive chemicals and toxic-disposal requirements of perc, wet cleaning is no more expensive, despite requiring more skilled labor. Plus, the air is free of toxic perc.

This is Jim Hightower saying ... It's not the high paid corporate execs or hot-shot politicians who make progress for our country, but ordinary folks like the Hendersons. As Emerson said, "common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes," and the Hendersons are common sense in action.

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