Helping Neighbors Breathe Easier

  • March 6, 2018
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  • Bjorn Olson

Two Saint Paul auto body shops voluntarily reduced emissions to help staff and neighbors breathe easier.

Raymond Auto Body and O’Keefee Collision voluntarily installed new equipment that will reduce harmful emissions, save money, and protect public health. With grants provided through the Clean Air Assistance Project, the shops were able to upgrade their operations at a reduced cost.

Reducing Emissions: The shops switched from a solvent-based paint system to a waterborne one. These solvents are also called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs.) When these VOCs are released into the air, they mix with other pollutants and cause ground-level ozone, also known as smog. The result from the switch to waterborne systems is a 45-65 percent reduction in emissions.

Saving Time, Saving Money: While individual shops are still converting from solvent to waterborne paints, the major auto manufacturers switched over years ago. Spraying waterborne saves shops the time, material, and costs of having to re-apply solvent paint to match the vehicle’s original color. Waterborne paint also doesn’t require as much maintenance as the solvent and reduces hazardous waste.

“Environmental Initiative’s program was quick, easy and allowed us to upgrade our equipment on a timeline that worked best for our shop. It feels good to improve our operations while also investing in the environment and our neighbors,” said Jerry Slomkowski, grandson of Raymond Auto Body namesake Raymond Slomkowski.

Increasing Safety: While upgrading technology is good for business, the change is about more than just increased efficiency. For both shop owners, reducing shop emissions is equally about positively impacting the local community as well as employees.

According to the Life and Breath Report issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health, negative health impacts of air pollution fall disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, as well as the elderly, children, and those predisposed to respiratory illness. Both shops are located in areas identified by the Metropolitan Council as having 50% or more of residents of color and 40% or more of incomes below 185% of the federal poverty threshold. Additionally, the cleaner air inside the shops keeps employees from breathing in harmful pollutants that have been known to cause cardiac and respiratory illness over time.

“We’ve got a lot of pride in what we do and where we work. We want to do things right not only for business, but for our workers, customers, and neighbors,” said David O’Keeffe, owner of O’Keeffe Collision in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood.

Learn More about the Clean Air Assistance Project

According to the MPCA, two-thirds of Minnesota’s air pollution comes from smaller, more dispersed sources – which are not regulated like larger industrial facilities. The Clean Air Assistance Project, is a voluntary program encouraging small business to reduce emissions. Funded by 3M and Andeavor (formerly Western Refining), grants incentivize investment in newer, cleaner operations. Since 2013, Environmental Initiative has worked with small businesses like printers, dry cleaners, and auto body shops to voluntarily reduce emissions by incentivizing them to invest in newer and cleaner technology. Learn more about the Clean Air Assistance Project »