The costs for small businesses to comply could be ‘enormous’
By Isaac Peterson
Many people are talking lately about the numerous disparities in Minnesota between the White population and communities of color. People of color lose in every category.
One little-noted area of disparity is environmental; people of color are exposed to more environmental pollution than their White counterparts. (The MSR has recently published the findings of scientific studies identifying these environmental disparities: “Race matters most in determining who breathes bad air,” May 8, and “People of color most vulnerable to toxic chemical disasters,” May 15) .
But while some are talking about the problem, others are doing something about it.
In a forward-thinking and innovative joint effort, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (or MnTAP, a program at the University of Minnesota) have teamed up to offer small
businesses owned by people of color the means to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Between now and August 13, The MPCA is providing financial assistance in the form of grants and MnTAP is offering technical assistance to help small businesses owned by people of color take steps to help reduce environmental problems caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
What are VOCs?
VOCs are chemicals emitted from many industrial and commercial processes used in businesses, like auto body shops, print shops and dry cleaners. There are many types of VOCS, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, some examples being paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.
“Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products,” says the EPA. “Paints, varnishes and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.”
You may recognize them as the fumes coming from coatings, inks, solvents, adhesives, gasoline and other everyday products. VOCs may be health hazards both inside and outdoors, in the environment.
Direct exposure to VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness in short exposures. Exposure over long periods can increase cancer risk and damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Businesses that use a lot of products containing VOCs often require protective measures for their workers.
When VOCs are released into the atmosphere, they can be chemically transformed into ground-level ozone, which is a component of smog and is itself a harmful air pollutant. When released into the atmosphere they become smog, a harmful air pollutant. Minnesota is hovering close to the national air quality standard for ozone, and the EPA is planning to tighten the limit for emissions in the next couple of years. If that happens, the costs for keeping our air safe to breathe could go up and greatly affect Minnesota businesses.
The cost of compliance to businesses owned by people of color could be enormous.
Next week: An MPCA/MnTAP grant program can help with compliance.
Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to [email protected].