Everyday pollution

Sources of air pollution - home, lawn equipment, hospital, cars
There are many small, but critical sources of air pollution in our homes and neighborhoods. Sources such as lawn mowers, dry cleaners, backyard fires, and auto-body shops are located where we live and work, which means we are frequently exposed to their emissions and sometimes for long periods of time.
Total emissions from these smaller but widespread sources are significantly greater than all the industrial sources in the state combined. Addressing these sources is challenging, however, since, while each individual source might be too small to effectively regulate, all together they contribute to harmful levels of air pollution that can impact the health of Minnesotans.  

Because of the large number of these sources and the often small size of their individual emissions, it is difficult to regulate them through traditional air permitting. For some types of equipment, the EPA or the states may require manufacturers to produce lower-emitting equipment. However, existing equipment can last a long time, continuing to operate with higher emissions. 

How we're doing 

The MPCA and our partners in Clean Air Minnesota (CAM) have a goal to reduce emissions of certain key pollutants by 10% from 2011 levels through voluntary emission reduction efforts. Achieving this goal would mean avoiding over 6,000 tons of particulate matter emissions and nearly 27,000 tons of VOC emissions every year. With relatively small initial investments in projects like those featured below and other diesel emission reduction efforts, the MPCA and our CAM partners have taken important first steps towards our goal.

These projects have also given us the opportunity to better understand which types of projects are the most effective at lowering emissions and which achieve the most emissions reductions for each dollar spent. These small-scale efforts have paved the way for the opportunity to potentially scale-up to larger efforts that will achieve even greater emissions reductions.

What we're doing about it

VOC grants infographic - $660K devoted to grant fundingVoluntary programs and outreach campaigns are important tools to achieve emissions reductions from small sources. Voluntary programs can offer flexibility for businesses and individuals to reduce emissions in a way that is the most efficient and cost-effective option for them. Voluntary programs provide opportunities for small businesses to reinvest in their operations by upgrading equipment, adopting more sustainable practices, and being better neighbors and employers. 

Small business VOC reductions

Every day, employees at businesses around the state breathe in fumes from chemicals that contain VOCs. The VOCs also evaporate into the air and react to form ground-level ozone. VOC emissions can be reduced by using different chemicals in industrial processes and upgrading to low-emitting equipment.

Exterior of Oscar Auto Body in MinneapolisMany small businesses want to upgrade their equipment and change their chemicals and fuels to protect the health of their employees and neighbors; but many do not have the ability to pay for the necessary upgrades or to retrain their employees on new equipment and processes.  To help businesses take the leap and improve their environmental stewardship, the MPCA and its Clean Air Minnesota partners offer grants, loans, and training for small businesses.

In 2014 and 2015, 13 small businesses received grants from the MPCA to upgrade their equipment, 10 participated in the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Sharing Program to convert to cleaner technology, and the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program offered three virtual painting trainings to teach best practices that reduce paint waste. The MPCA and its partners targeted funds and outreach to businesses located in areas of environmental justice concern to help reduce the exposure to harmful VOCs for people in those neighborhoods.

Residential wood smoke

Wood stove comparisons - best option is newer, natural gasSmoke from burning wood contains particles and toxic chemicals that can be hazardous to human health. These emissions can be particularly harmful because people are often very close to the source of the smoke, whether it’s a backyard fire wafting over to a neighbor’s yard or sitting close to a fire for warmth. Being close to the source means that people breathe a lot of pollutants directly into their lungs before the pollutants dissipate in the air.

To encourage the use of cleaner burning equipment, Clean Air Minnesota partners Environmental Initiative and Minnesota Power are coordinating with the MPCA on Project Stove Swap, a wood heater change-out initiative that provides financial incentives for residents and businesses with older, dirtier wood-burning equipment to purchase new, cleaner wood-burning equipment.

Swapping out just one old, outdated wood stove used to heat a home all winter for a new, more efficient model achieves the same particulate matter emissions reduction as removing over 700 cars from the road. The funding will incentivize the change-out of at least 130 wood burning appliances and 20% of the funds will be targeted specifically at low-income individuals.

Air Aware Employer Partnership 

The Air Aware Employer Partnership is a program for employers committed raising awareness of air quality and its health impacts. Employers sign up to receive air quality alerts, which they pass on to their employees along with tips on reducing emissions and avoiding exposure on bad air days. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has also committed to including air quality messages on its traffic signs when an air advisory is in effect.  

Want the full report?

Learn more about the innovative steps the MPCA is taking to improve air quality: PDF icon The air we breathe 2017