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Planner Spotlight: Ivy Muchuma

Q&A with Ivy Muchuma
Environmental Safety Engineer and Reporting Manager
Bradford Industries, Lowell, Mass.

TUR Planner Ivy Muchuma

After earning a graduate degree in sustainable building systems at Northeastern University in 2015, Ivy Muchuma landed a job at Bradford Industries in Lowell.

One of her first responsibilities was to make sure that Bradford was in compliance with state and federal regulations. In just a few years, she’s gone above and beyond her initial role.

After initially hiring a consultant to develop the company’s Toxics Use Reduction Plans, Ivy decided that she wanted to take on this responsibility.

She dove into the Toxics Use Reduction Planner course in 2016 and applied the concepts she learned to Bradford’s manufacturing process.

Q. Why were you initially interested in environmental engineering and sustainability?

A. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to do something to improve the world and do no harm. I thought about careers where I could get a good job and help people and companies. And that’s how I found sustainability and environmental engineering.

Q. When did you first learn about Toxics Use Reduction (TUR)?

A. I did not learn about TUR until I started to work at Bradford. Even as an environmental engineering undergrad at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or in my grad program, I didn’t learn about the importance of finding alternatives to toxic chemicals. So here I am at Bradford filling out compliance forms thinking ‘what can I do to make improvements’?

Q. What did you learn in the Toxics Use Reduction Planner course that you applied to your job?

A. Bradford produces coated fabrics for the automotive industry and other consumer and industrial markets. I examined the solvents that we were using and looked for ways to reduce or replace the chemicals. We are taught in the course a systematic way to look for safer, feasible alternatives. If one doesn’t exist, we can turn to research. And that’s what we’re doing now with the help of a TURI Academic research grant.

Q. What is the company hoping to achieve with this research project?

A. We’re partnering with Prof. Ram Nagarajan of UML’s Department of Plastics Engineering to evaluate safer solvent blends to replace the use of the solvent dimethylformamide (DMF) in textile coatings. We are in our second year researching the right ratios of solvents that will meet our performance and cost constraints. Reducing the amount of this higher hazard solvent will help us in turn reduce the amount of hazardous waste we generate, the amount of solvent we process, and therefore, the associated costs. 

Q. What do you think has been most important to your success so far to reduce toxics?

A. I credit my supervisor and Bradford’s company culture that are open to making improvements. Whenever I come up with an idea or want to try something different, they support me. Another thing that’s important is taking advantage of resources, such as training and grants, to keep going and not be satisfied with just filling out forms or submitting plans. My goal is to see results.

Also even though I work in an office, I’m always walking around the manufacturing floor talking to employees. I gather feedback from them while talking with them about any potential compliance issues. I think they see me as part of their team, which is good for collaborating and continuous improvement.