Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Mobile graffiti busters unit on job to wipe out grime in Toledo


Andrew Kirk, left, and Takisha Townsend, of Toledo’s Neighborhood Beautification Action program, remove graffiti in International Park as the Operation Wipeout Graffiti Removal Unit is unveiled.

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They sprayed, they scrubbed, they washed it off.

It took a member of a two-person Toledo city crew about 10 minutes Tuesday to lift a 2-foot-by-2-foot area of graffiti off a concrete bridge support and less time to remove a smaller area of graffiti from a metal electric box nearby.

They sprayed the graffiti with a chemical, scratched the affected surface, and then used a power washer to clean it off with water after Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and representatives of the city’s public service department talked about the city’s new graffiti-fighting method. Part of a news conference, the demonstration was held at International Park on the city’s east side.

The centerpiece was a technicolor, graffiti-art painted 1986 GMC Vandura 3500 box van, which sports a sign that says, “Operation Wipeout Graffiti Removal Unit.” Complete with a generator, a power washer, and a supply of the chemical, the converted bread truck turned mobile arsenal unit was launched just after Memorial Day, said Jen Sorgenfrei, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Titled TSW (which stands for “this stuff works”), the chemical is nonabrasive and environmentally safe, officials said. It is distributed by Sherwin-Williams Co. and is produced by This Stuff Works Inc., said David Brown, a sales representative at Sherwin-Williams. Graffiti Master Products has sold the chemical since 1994 after it was first used at cities and schools in the California Bay area, according to the company’s Web site.

The van costs about $5,000 annually to operate at about $8 per-man hour, according to Rick Akeman, manager of the city’s Neighborhood Beautification Action program. About $3,000 will be spent on labor and the remaining $2,000 on chemical supplies, he said. A federal grant as well as private donations from Sherwin-Williams Co. and Kuhlman Corp. pay for the project, officials said.

Mayor Bell said graffiti markings are “totally inappropriate.”

“It makes the city look not kept up as it needs to be,” the mayor said. “We’ve got gangs that use them to mark their territories. It is totally unnecessary.”

Mr. Akeman said the graffiti-fighting effort will be proactive and identify the city areas of immediate concern, including the general area of Western Avenue and Broadway in the city’s south end and the area of West Central and North Detroit avenues in the central city.

“These guys drive around, they find it, they abate it,” Mr. Akeman said of the box-van crew. “They don’t wait for a complaint.”

Contact Mike sigov at:, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.

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