The estimated decade-long, $80 million project is expected to include as many as 1,200 locations.

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) has begun an $80 million project to clean up ground water contamination at as many as 1,200 current and abandoned dry-cleaning establishments that used the suspected cancer-causing solvent perchlorethylene.

The project, which may take a decade to complete, will begin with the testing and correcting of only 5 percent of those sites in the voluntary program's initial phase. Seven sites have been certified to participate.

NCDENR officials are narrowing potential cleanup contractors to four who will then receive a $600,000 contract to begin the testing and cleanup operations at 61 dry-cleaning sites.

Environmental officials in the state of California recently announced that they would move to stop the purchase of all new perchloroethylene-cleaning machines effective immediately and ban the chemical altogether after 2019.

Contamination at the dry-cleaning sites occurs, experts say, when perchloroethylene spills on the floor during cleaning-machine maintenance. The chemical then penetrates the concrete and enters the ground water.