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UMass Lowell's TURI Awards $75K to Community Groups to Reduce Toxics

Sept. 18, 2012, Lowell, Mass. – UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) awarded $75,000 to five Massachusetts community organizations for educating the public about safer products and methods to avoid the negative health effects of toxic chemicals.

Project leaders will educate consumers and small businesses, specifically dry cleaning shops and hair and nail salons, about the availability of safer alternatives. 

“With toxic chemicals pervasive in everyday products, there’s a critical need to make the public aware of safer products and that’s what these project leaders will do,” said Joy Onasch, TURI community and small business program manager. “Through workshops, research, demonstrations and materials, project leaders will reach a wide audience – from low-income children and adults and diverse populations to the general public. We all have a lot to learn to keep our families safe.”

TURI awarded grants to the following organizations:

Montachusett Opportunity Council (MOC), Fitchburg, “Green and Clean in North Central Massachusetts,” $20,000

The project team will educate residents in North Central Massachusetts – including the Hmong population, Spanish speakers and low­income individuals as well as professionals working with vulnerable populations – about toxins in cleaning supplies and safer, less expensive alternatives. They will conduct workshops with community groups, translate materials into Hmong and Spanish and distribute free samples of safer cleaning products for trial. To increase regional and state-wide impact, MOC will present tips, cleaning product recipes and cost comparisons at the 2012 Southern New England Community Action Conference and state-wide Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Child Care and Head Start meetings. MOC will pilot the use of safer deodorizers and disinfectants in its own WIC program and present the results to 80 WIC staff at the state-wide meeting.

Norfolk County 7 Public Health Coalition, “Helping Salons Achieve Green and Clean Project,” $20,000

Building on a project that began last year, the Norfolk County 7 Public Health Coalition will work with hair and nail salons in the Norfolk 7 area (towns include Canton, Dedham, Milton, Needham, Norwood, Wellesley and Westwood) to implement safer practices. The project team will create a “Green and Clean” certificate standard to encourage salons to make their work environments safer for employees and customers. The certificate will be awarded to businesses that replace toxics and improve air quality. The salon’s success will be promoted through the press, advertising and social media. The project team will continue to distribute nail polish that does not contain the “toxic trio” – toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. They will develop resource materials that will educate salons and help them find alternatives to hair straightening treatments that may contain formaldehyde.

Clean Water Fund, Boston, “Educating Dry Cleaning Consumers about Healthier Alternatives,” $20,000

In partnership with collaborating organizations, Clean Water Fund (CWF) will educate consumers across the state on the health and safety of different types of dry cleaning options – including the most widely-used toxic chemical perchlorethylene and safer alternatives such as professional wet cleaning, hydrocarbons and GreenEarth. By understanding the health effects of each option, consumers will be able to accurately evaluate their local dry cleaning shops and avoid being swayed by “greenwashing.” The team will conduct a survey to identify cleaners who are using professional wet cleaning, an advanced technology that allows “dry-clean-only” clothes to be effectively washed with water in computer-controlled machines, and promote these cleaners to consumers.

Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), Boston, “Cleaning for a Healthy Head Start,” $10,000

The project team’s goal is to eliminate toxic chemical use in Head Start child-care facilities in underserved Boston neighborhoods, contributing to improved environmental health and environmental awareness for low-income children and adults. With their partners, MassCOSH will promote safer cleaning agents and the implementation of toxics use reduction practices. They will establish an environmental committee of staff and parents that will develop education and outreach strategies. This will lead to the development of new, safer cleaning policies at 25 Head Start facilities that will serve as a model that can be easily replicable across the Commonwealth. 

Mill City Grows, Lowell, “School Garden Pilot Project”, $5,000

Mill City Grows will educate the community about the risks of using herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in gardening and landscaping. In partnership with the Lowell School Department, the project team will plant four garden beds at the Dr. An Wang and Pawtucketville Memorial Schools in Lowell. Students, teachers and parents will grow vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits that will in turn function as a training and resource center on how to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in the garden. Mill City Grows’ School Garden Pilot will be a model for organic food production in the school community setting. Through the documentation of the creation process, as well as training and workshops, the team will create a model that can be replicated at other schools in the City of Lowell and in the region. 

This is the 18th year of the TURI Community Grant Program, which has awarded more than $900,000 to Massachusetts community and municipal organizations to make the Commonwealth a safer place to live and work.