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* To some people, it is a work of art. To others, it is a growing problem, and a costly one at that.

Two or three times a month, the American Industrial Cleaning Company in Somerville, Mass., receives a call from a Boston-area building owner complaining about graffiti. Typically, the building owner has waited until the property has been hit several times before making the call.

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"It's too expensive to call every time," says Fred Dello, owner of American Industrial. "They wait and let it build up and then they call."

Mr. Dello's company uses a paint remover and a pressure washer that shoots sand and water simultaneously. It is a cumbersome process, but it usually gets the job done.

But in the San Francisco area, where a strong anti-graffiti campaign has been under way, one company has taken the business of removing it a step further and has seen sales rise as demand increases. More than 150 San Francisco buildings are now coated with "Graffiti Defenz," a clear, permanent protective coating developed by Graffiti Control Services of San Bruno. With the sealer, permanent markers wipe clean immediately and paint takes only a few minutes more.

"Graffiti is a constant problem and this is the only answer," says Greg Keiser, the company's president. "Graffiti artists present us with a new challenge just about every day, but so far we've been able to remove everything from our coatings."

Sealants are not a new concept, but most are "sacrificial," Mr. Keiser says, meaning that when the graffiti is wiped off, the protective coating comes with it.

The cost of regularly reapplying a protective sealant can be prohibitive, he adds.

Typically, the California building owners who have used Graffiti Defenz have paid about $1,895; if the surface needs a lot of work, the price can run up to about $2,500. "We hear all the time that sealants don't work," Keiser says. "But graffiti can be cleaned up effectively and economically - especially in repeat cases."

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Every building has its own personality, Keiser says. Some owners want Graffiti Control Services to do all the work for them; others ask for a kit the company provides and they tackle the problem on their own.

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