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Grant Projects Awarded in 2020

TURI awarded nine grant projects aimed to reduce the use of hazardous solvents, harmful cleaning and disinfection agents and pesticides.

Safer Solvents for Manufacturers and Dry Cleaners 

Assistant Professor Wan-Ting (Grace) Chen of Plastics Engineering at UMass Lowell is partnering with Johnson Matthey, a manufacturer of active pharmaceutical ingredients and intermediates with facilities located in North Andover and Devens. The goal of the research project is to find safer alternatives to methylene chloride, a toxic chemical used in reaction and purification processes. The researchers plan to identify safer alternative solvents, screen the alternatives for health and safety considerations and test the performance of selected solvents.

Steel Art Company, Inc. of Norwood, a designer and manufacturer of architectural-quality signage, is working with the TURI Lab to find a safer substitute to n-propyl bromide, a higher hazard substance that’s used to clean aluminum, stainless steel and brass parts. Once the TURI Lab evaluates the effectiveness of safer options, Steel Art will select their preferred chemistry and purchase compatible equipment, which may include ultrasonic or low agitation systems.   

Grove Hall Cleaners of Dorchester aims to eliminate the use of perchloroethylene, a solvent classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The dry cleaner will switch to Professional Wet Cleaning, which allows for “dry-clean-only” clothes to be effectively washed with water and detergents in computer-controlled machines and finished with tensioning and pressing equipment.      

Safer Cleaning and Disinfection       

Family Martial Arts Center of Leominster and Fitchburg is re-opening their karate studios using safer cleaning and disinfecting products during the pandemic. The small business is purchasing three steam vapor units to clean and disinfect a 6,500 square foot space and electrolyzed water systems to disinfect the front door, bathroom and front desk areas. By using this new equipment, the facility will eliminate the use of bleach and quaternary ammonium compounds-based disinfectants, both of which can cause respiratory and other health issues.

The Clean Water Fund located in Boston is training house cleaners, custodians, teachers and members of environmental justice communities about how to choose safer cleaning and disinfecting products amid the coronavirus. Through workshops, online trainings and social media, the project team will share information about hazardous chemicals in cleaners and disinfectants that are linked to asthma, respiratory irritation and other health impacts. The grant partners – MassCOSH, the Resilient Sisterhood Project, Vida Verde Women’s Co-op of the Brazilian Women’s Group, and the American Federation of Teachers/Massachusetts Chapter – will host workshops to protect vulnerable groups from harmful exposure to toxics in cleaners and disinfectants.

The Brazilian Women’s Group of Brighton is training Brazilian domestic workers and other Portuguese-speaking women about how to make and use safer cleaning products. The project team will also share information about how to minimize coronavirus impacts in their local community, where 75 percent of Brazilian women work as domestic or essential workers. They will also reach out to nannies, elder care workers and childcare providers.

Informed Green Solutions of Deerfield is developing and sharing information with schools about how the coronavirus spreads and the appropriate ways to choose and use safer cleaning and disinfecting products. By learning how to integrate effective control systems into operational systems, schools will minimize the need for expensive janitorial services that use hazardous products. A handbook and other training materials will be shared via webinars and websites.

Silent Spring Institute of Newton is sharing information with Black women about how to select personal care and cleaning products that don’t contain toxics, such as phthalates, parabens, phenols and antimicrobials. Studies show that women of color have higher total amount of toxic chemicals in their bodies compared to white women. Led by the Silent Spring Institute in partnership with the Resilient Sisterhood Project, the project aims to identify and reduce chemical exposures that may contribute to endocrine disruption, asthma, diabetes, and cancer, diseases that put Black women at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The project team will host virtual workshops, survey women about product usage using an online application and launch a social media campaign about safer alternatives.

Food Systems and Processing      

Wellspring Harvest Corporation of Springfield, an urban hydroponic greenhouse that grows lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, is eliminating the use of pesticides by closely managing humidity levels to control the growth of powdery mildew infestations on crops. The small business is installing a misting system to ensure that relative humidity does not drop below 50 percent. The extremely fine mist evaporates without wetting plants, thus preventing conditions for mildew growth while raising humidity to prevent spores from spreading.