City, neighborhoods fund solvent switch at LaMac Cleaners

From left to right: Tangletown Neighborhood Association board member Kathy Kornblum, Windom Community Council President Steve Rawlins, LaMac owner Nick Zedania and Patrick Hanlon, environmental initiatives manager for the city of Minneapolis. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

LaMac Cleaners received $47,500 on July 21 to switch out equipment that uses a hazardous solvent.

The business received $37,500 through the nonprofit Environmental Initiative and the city’s Green Business Cost Sharing Program. The Tangletown and Windom neighborhood associations each contributed $5,000.

“Sooner or later, everybody has to convert to green cleaning,” said Nick Zedania, owner of LaMac. “It’s great to be part of a healthy environment.”

The solvent, perchloroethylene or perc, is by far the most commonly used solvent in dry cleaning shops, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. However, perc may pose serious health hazards if exposure is not properly controlled.

“Dry cleaning workers who routinely breathe excessive amounts of the solvent vapor or spill perc on their skin are at risk of developing health problems,” the agency says.

Through the Green Business Cost Sharing Program, Minneapolis offers up to $35,000 for dry cleaners to switch to alternative solvents. The city also offers up to $25,000 to auto body shops to switch from water-based paints and up to $100,000 for green business practices that focus on air quality improvement by reducing volatile organic compound emissions, particulate matter emissions or other harmful hazardous air pollutants.

Equipment conversion costs between $80,000 and $100,000 for dry cleaners, according to Patrick Hanlon, the city’s environmental initiatives manager. There’s not a lot of return on investment for the switch, he said,

Minneapolis used to have 12 dry cleaners that used perc. Now it’s down to three. Two other dry cleaners have submitted applications to the cost sharing program. Hanlon said the city is working with a third, Osman Cleaners in South Minneapolis.

Including this year’s applicants, more than 70 businesses have participated in the Green Business Cost Sharing Program, Hanlon said. The program is in partnership with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Smart program, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program.

The program was developed by business owners, multiple government agencies, nonprofits and utility companies. The city projects to reduce air pollution by nearly 120,000 pounds in 2017 alone.

“This has been really eye opening to see (with) bringing funding partners together what we can do to accelerate the pace of change,” Hanlon said.