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TURI Awards Grants to Reduce the Use of PFAS, Solvents and Other Toxic Chemicals

Contact: Karen Angelo, [email protected], 978-430-6303

Lowell, Mass., Wed., September 15, 2021 – The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell awarded $177,500 in grants to reduce the use of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), solvent cleaning agents, carcinogens and other harmful chemicals.

The nine-funded project teams include Massachusetts industries, small businesses, community groups and UMass Lowell researchers in partnership with industry. The projects aim to reduce the use of PFAS in manufacturing, firefighting gear and consumer products, solvents in manufacturing, auto shops and dry cleaning, and toxics in personal care products.

TURI awarded the grants to:


Central Metal Finishing Inc. of North Andover will purchase new cleaning equipment to eliminate the use of n-propyl bromide, a hazardous chemical that can affect the central nervous and reproductive systems. Working with the TURI Lab, Central Metal Finishing will find a safer alternative that works with the new equipment. The company’s goals are to protect worker health and safety and increase production capacity for its aerospace and medical device customers.

S.E. Shires of Holliston, a maker of custom brass musical instruments, will purchase an aqueous ultrasonic cleaning machine for a new line of larger instruments. In 2018, the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance helped S.E. Shires eliminate the use of trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic solvent that was used to clean the instruments. To continue using a water-based cleaning solution and not revert back to using TCE, S.E. Shires is working with the TURI Lab to identify aqueous products that effectively remove debris and oils from brass surfaces. 

Small Businesses

Rindge School of Technical Arts of Cambridge will create a safer environment for students who learn and work in the automotive technology program by replacing solvents with bio-based parts washing systems. These safer products will replace aerosol brake and parts cleaners that contain solvents such as toluene, methanol, acetone and perchloroethylene (perc). The automotive technology program staff will also replace lead wheel weights, which are physically handled by students on a daily basis, with non-lead weights.

North Randolph Cleaners will convert its dry cleaning shop from using perc, a likely human carcinogen, to Professional Wet Cleaning. This safer alternative allows the small businesses to clean “dry-clean-only” clothes with water and detergents in computer-controlled machines. Workers then use special tensioning and pressing equipment to achieve high-quality results. North Randolph Cleaners expects to eliminate the use of 200 gallons of perc annually, improve worker health and safety and market the shop as environmentally friendly.

Academic Researchers 

Associate Professor Hsi-Wu Wong, Department of Chemical Engineering at UMass Lowell aims to identify safer, effective solvents in collaboration with Johnson Matthey, a manufacturer of active pharmaceutical ingredients and intermediates at its facilities in North Andover and Devens. The safer alternatives could replace methylene chloride, a toxic chemical used in the company’s manufacturing processes. This project is a continuation of last year’s research conducted by Assistant Professor Grace Chen of Plastics Engineering. The goal of this year’s research is to further evaluate the effectiveness of the identified safer alternative solvent blends.

Professor Ramaswamy Nagarajan, Department of Plastics Engineering at UMass Lowell will work with Transene Company of Danvers to research safer chemicals, to replace per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) surfactants used in electronic processing chemicals. The research team will study the compatibility and stability of pectin-based bio-surfactants in etching solutions. This work is expected to help Transene phase out the use of PFAS by the end of 2022 and provide useful results for other industries that use PFAS surfactants in manufacturing.

Community Groups

Community Action Works and Clean Water Fund of Boston will provide workshops and resources to community members about PFAS contamination in drinking water and other sources. These chemicals have been linked to health effects such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, asthma and thyroid disease. The project team will provide community members with information about health and environmental concerns, safer alternatives and practical steps to reduce the use of, and exposure to, PFAS.

Nantucket PFAS Action Group will work with firefighters to replace firefighter gear containing PFAS, study the impacts of this replacement and educate firefighters about PFAS and safer alternatives. PFAS, which is used in firefighting protective gear to repel oil and water, can shed from the gear, leading to human and environmental exposures. Working with the Nantucket and Fall River Fire Departments, the project team will share information with firefighters, fire marshals, unions and cancer prevention groups in Massachusetts. The team will create fact sheets, host a webinar and use social media to share information on PFAS and safer alternatives.

Silent Spring Institute of Newton and Resilient Sisterhood Project of Boston will use social media to share information about toxic chemicals in personal care products marketed to Black women. These chemicals – including phthalates, parabens, phenols and antimicrobials – are associated with a broad range of health effects, including endocrine disruption, asthma and cancer. Based on in-depth research about how women seek information on personal care products, the team will work with influencers to share information about safer alternatives on social media.