East Metro businesses prevent pollution through voluntary upgrades

Many small businesses, including auto body shops and dry cleaners emit at least some chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. These chemicals are harmful to human health. VOCs also react with other gases to form other air pollutants when released into the air. Improving health and safety is why Environmental Initiative is partnering with the City of MinneapolisMinnesota Pollution Control AgencyMinnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) and Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy. Through free and confidential guidance, business owners can decide if they are interested in reducing their emissions through grant and loan programs.

Here are three examples of businesses in the east metro who recently made equipment upgrades to prevent pollution and protect their employees, their communities, and the environment.


Vladimir Storchak and his family own and operate four professional dry cleaning and laundry service locations in the Twin Cities. He first became aware of grant opportunities to reduce emissions during the summer of 2020. Over the course of several months, Vladimir worked with Christina Vang-Dixon to determine if his business was eligible for a range of grant and cost-share programs.

“Small business owners don’t always have the time to fill out grant or cost share applications. One of the ways Environmental Initiative helps is by assisting business owners with eligibility and grant application questions,” Christina said.

Together, Vladimir and Christina identified an opportunity to decommission the perchloroethylene machine at the Storchak Cleaners facility in Saint Paul. Perchloroethylene, or “perc” is the most used chemical solvent in dry cleaning operations across the country. A new Minnesota law passed in spring 2020 phases out the use of this chemical. The old perc machine was replaced with a new hydrocarbon machine. This new system:

  • Uses less harmful chemicals.
  • Eliminates disposal costs.
  • Provides better efficiency.
  • Increases productivity.

More than 100 gallons of hazardous waste was reduced because of this project. Storchak Cleaners was also removed from Ramsey County’s list of hazardous waste generators.

The perc decommissioning process was truly a group effort.

“I’ve been in the dry cleaning business for over 32 years,” said Vladimir. “This was my first ever experience with any government financial help. Christina’s to the point involvement and attention to all details made it happen. That is greatly appreciated by me.”

Funding for the project was provided by Ramsey County’s Business Pollution Prevention Program, MnTAP, 3M, and the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Safety Grant program.


Der Vue, owner of Minnehaha Cleaning Center in Saint Paul, expressed an interest in switching away from using perc in her operations during the summer of 2020. While perc is an effective cleaning solvent for sensitive fabrics like wool, it’s also a potential human carcinogen.

The old perc machine at Minnehaha Cleaning Center was also replaced with a new hydrocarbon machine. Hazardous waste generation was reduced by 30 gallons and Minnehaha Cleaning Center was also removed from Ramsey County’s hazardous waste generator list.

Der said, “The scent of perc is no longer lingering around the area which is a big A+! We can run the machine continuously without all the harmful toxins in the air and I believe our customers are just as excited as we are. I’m very glad we got rid of the old and in with the new. Thanks for all your help!”

Upgrades at Minnehaha Cleaning Center were supported by grants from Ramsey County’s Business Pollution Prevention Program, MnTAP, 3M, the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Safety Grant program, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Small Business Environmental Improvement Loans.


The auto body refinishing industry is among the top sources of VOCs and hazardous air pollutants in Minnesota. Auto body shop emissions can affect air quality near shops and pose health risks to workers. Traditional, solvent-based paints are one major contributor to auto body shop emissions.

Hue Vang at Maplewood Collision Center worked with Environmental Initiative and our partners to further his efforts in switching to waterborne operations in May 2021. Water-based paints reduce worker exposure to emissions, emit fewer pollutants, and produce less hazardous waste. As part of this larger effort, Ramsey County’s Business Pollution Prevention Program funds were used to purchase new paint guns and water-based paints and coatings.

The new, more efficient paint guns reduced VOC emissions by 800 pounds.


State and local government grants and loan programs for small business assistance to reduce emissions are still active. Benefits include:

  • Testing and analysis.
  • Reduced equipment costs through grants and loans.
  • Essential staff training on new equipment/processes.
  • Commissioning new equipment.
  • Decommissioning old equipment.

Owners of auto body shops, print shops, and industrial paint shops are encouraged to contact Christina Vang-Dixon with questions or to get started.