Reducing volatile organic compounds: good for business and the environment










Two Minneapolis businesses are already benefitting from the change



By Isaac Peterson

Contributing Writer


Conclusion of a  three-part story



Last week MSR readers learned of a new grant program that Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is offering to help businesses with the cost of complying with new regulations to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This week readers are introduced to two business who have already benefitted from the program. MPCA and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (or MnTAP, a program at the University of Minnesota) have teamed up to offer small businesses with matching grant funds of up to $100,000.



How can cutting down on VOC’s help your business and the environment? Let’s look at the experience of two Minneapolis small business owners and see how reducing VOC’s helped them.

Tyler Avestini, owner of Avestopolis Cleaners at 4115 Lyndale Ave. N. since 1990, had been using a solvent called perchloroethylene, or PERC in his dry cleaning business. PERC, in addition to being classified an environmental hazard and requiring handling as hazardous waste, is also believed to cause cancer in humans.

Avestini decided to switch from PERC to Green Earth, a natural compound with the advantages of PERC, but without the downsides. With Green Earth, Avestini said, “You don’t have to worry about breathing it. It is a much better product: it is good for the customer, the environment, the employees.”

Mulroy's Body Shop used an MPCA grant to help make the switch to water-based paint. Photo courtesy of Mulroy's Body Shop
Mulroy’s Body Shop used an MPCA grant to help make the switch to water-based paint.
Photo courtesy of Mulroy’s Body Shop

The customer benefits because there is no longer toxic residue left on their clothes. The environment benefits because Avestopolis is no longer emitting hazardous waste; Avestini explained that “It’s not a hazardous waste, it is just an industrial waste, which is biodegradable. We don’t really have to do anything with it; they come pick it up, and it takes a long time to accumulate. It is very light, it’s like a powder, and there is absolutely no chemical in the residue that we take out.” Also, “We use a lot of water in the machines, but we can recycle that water now [and it can be used again]” since eliminating PERC.

And there are obvious health benefits for Avestini’s employees and the neighborhood, since they are no longer exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. But the benefits don’t stop there: eliminating PERC has also improved his bottom line.

Each of Avestini’s machines must be licensed. Eliminating PERC drove licensing costs down: “Licensing fees went from about $380.00 a year for just one license to about $50.00 a year,” he said. Avestini’s very costly machinery is much easier to clean now, and less expensive to clean.

He says his machinery will have a longer working life than it would have had using PERC. “The machine I have now, I think I will have it for the next 20 years.” (Avestini had previously been replacing a machine every 8-10 years.) The machine will be a good machine for years to come. It can probably last, at a minimum, 30 years.”

Pat Mulroy, owner of Mulroy’s Body Shop at 3920 Nicollet Avenue has had similar results since eliminating VOC’s in his business. After doing much research, Mulroy decided to switch to water-based paint, and couldn’t be happier with his decision.

One major consideration for Mulroy is the environment, both inside his shop, and in the surrounding community: “It’s a cleaner environment now when the customers come in, particularly families; it doesn’t smell like paint. And then when you look at the outside of the building, we’ve literally got houses 40 feet from us, where people are living. You’ve got to pay attention to that.

“You’re not using as much of the solvent with the water. It’s a mixing thing: you mix water with the paint, versus thinner with the paint. You’re using less and you generate less waste, and that’s better for my neighbors and for the environment. Also, it’s healthier for employees to have that system in.

“Then there was the cost of shipping of the hazardous waste,” Mulroy added, “which was cut down considerably, at least a third, right off the bat. If you’re using a solvent-based product, let’s say you would ship four 55 gallon drums at about $300 apiece, and now we’re shipping one a year, so there’s savings of $600-$900 dollars every year.”

Mulroy also explained that “Water-based paint is more user friendly” and “I think it was easier to treat more cars with less, because you’re using the same application that the cars are getting painted with at the factories. Factories have been painting cars with water base for 25 years. You’re trying to match the colors and match the finishes; we were always struggling with that. So when we went to the water-based, it was really nice because it looks fantastic!

“It was definitely setting us apart from everybody else by doing what we’re doing. And switching to water-based paint is just the right thing to do.”

And doing the right thing has resulted in very good word of mouth and referrals for Mulroy’s business. “Oh, absolutely. When you walk in the door and don’t have that smell, it can turn into referrals after that” when people see the finished product, “and the word of mouth that way. We haven’t promoted ourselves as much as some people wished we would — we just let it speak for itself and do its own thing.”

Would Mulroy encourage other small businesses to take advantage of the MPCA grant program to eliminate VOC’s in their businesses?

“Absolutely. I definitely think that this is the time that if you’re going to be considering moving toward that, this is the time to do it, right now.

“Get a hold of those agencies and work with them directly. The information’s out there, the track record’s out there, and the financing’s out there.”

But remember to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity and see how eliminating VOC’s can work in your business, you must apply before August 13.

Never applied for a grant before? Staff at MnTAP can help you put together your application. To discuss your ideas or work on your grant application contact Karl DeWahl at MnTAP at 612-624-4645 or



For more information on the MPCA VOC program, visit or contact Eric David at or call him at 651-757-2218.

Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to ipeterson@spokes