AREA SOURCE EMISSIONS AND VOCS: SMALLER, DISPERSED SOURCES OF POLLUTION

  • June 12, 2015
  • |
  • Bjorn Olson

What can I say about area source emissions, or VOCs, that hasn’t been said already? Probably a lot, because DSC02882webmany people don’t know what the heck I’m talking about…

Long story short, area source emissions are smaller and more dispersed. They aren’t regulated like “point sources” (think smokestacks). VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are an example of area source emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone.

Why is that bad? Well, for one, breathing ozone has been described as “sunburn on the lungs.” If that isn’t enough, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is lowering ground-level ozone standards this fall. Minnesota is very close to violating these new standards, which, if we do, would mean a host of new restrictions required by our federal friends. Regardless of where the standards are set, there’s a benefit to reducing emissions proactively and voluntarily — cleaner air means healthier air — it’s really that simple.

So, where do area source emissions like VOCs come from?

VOCs are emitted from a variety of sectors including auto body shops, manufacturing, printing, and dry cleaners, among others. Basically, anything involving solvents, lubricants, or hydraulics, as examples. If you get a whiff of something that smells like spray paint, it’s probably a VOC.

So, what can we do about it?

Enter stage left: your friendly nonprofit, Environmental Initiative.

The good news is we’re not starting from scratch. The City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have existing grant programs to incentivize businesses to reduce VOC emissions. The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) at the University of Minnesota has a wealth of knowledge and pilot projects directed at VOC reduction. So, in typical Environmental Initiative fashion, we’re getting everyone together to maximize results. Over the past year, Environmental Initiative has been working to connect businesses to the information and financial resources available to reduce emissions from partners like MnTAP, MPCA, and the City of Minneapolis.

Through these collaborative efforts, 16 projects in Minnesota were funded along with trainings and demonstration events to reduce VOCs. This year is looking even better as grant requests from businesses to the City eclipsed available resources and are estimated to reduce around 12 tons of VOCs. While the future is looking *ahem* cleaner, significant challenges remain.

As always, there’s never enough funding to go around. While Minneapolis and the State are willing to ante-up, private funding and additional public sources are the crucial components that will allow us to continue and expand the effort. Also, though Minnesota’s clean air record is a good thing, it makes raising awareness and education about unhealthy air a more challenging task. Avoiding religion and politics at dinner parties? You can add VOCs and area source emissions reductions to that list as well.

Despite these challenges, we’ve accomplished a lot and believe there is so much more we can do – especially if we do it in partnership. Our hope is to grow existing partnerships between the MPCA, City of Minneapolis, and MnTAP to other communities and businesses interested in reducing emissions together. We’re not going to get reductions from one source, one equation, or even one solution. It’s going to take rolled-up sleeves, handshakes, elbow grease, and whatever other clichés you can think of until clean air in Minnesota is just “business-as-usual.”

Finally, check out this recent story on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s partnership with Ramin Hakimi and Oscar Autobody in Minneapolis. And, feel free to contact me if you’d like to learn more or are interested in helping us think about how to grow this effort.
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A note from Environmental Initiative:
Oscar Autobody in Minneapolis (pictured above) is one of the businesses that has reduced area source emissions voluntarily. With assistance from the City of Minneaplis and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Oscar Autobody installed a new paint booth that uses waterborne paint, as opposed to solvent-based paint.