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Dracut Environmental Science Toxics Use Reduction Program

Project Details

Year: 1999-2000
Location: Dracut School System, Dracut, MA
Project Manager:


What does the phrase "Toxic Use Reduction" mean? How does one define the terms" toxic" and "hazardous"? What is the benefit of examining pollution prevention strategies for the average homeowner and business employee? How can students act as a motivational influence to assist in educating the community about environmental toxins?

The primary goal of this project was to educate students, custodial staff, and business employees about specific methodologies to replace and /or reduce toxic substances used in cleaning procedures with less toxic or non-toxic substances.

The ultimate goal regarding long term impact is simple: That recognition of the phrase "Toxic Use Reduction" be as well known as "reduce, reuse, and recycle" in the town of Dracut.

TUR Strategies for Custodial Staff

The first objective designed to achieve the goal of the project consisted of research and recommendations for Toxic Use Reduction strategies for the custodial and maintenance staff of the Dracut Public School System. The initial part of this effort commenced with the development of a survey to identify the types of cleaning supplies used in our system.

The Students personally interviewed custodians at the High School, Junior High and Elementary Schools. The survey results identified all chemicals, materials and procedures used in the daily, monthly and seasonal operations of this system. The school department has six buildings, one administration building and many sports fields, all of which are used by the community at large.

The students contacted the Business Manager for the MSDS sheets to specifically identify any hazardous materials of these cleaning supplies. We have contacted fifteen vendors of alternative cleaning supplies to request catalogues. Some products have been tested and approved by the EPA, Those that are not, we will test through protocols adapted from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute.

The students visited TURI's Surface Cleaning Laboratory at UMASS Lowell and participated in a sample product cleaning and analysis.

The second objective was to develop criteria by which to choose alternative products. The priority of testing alternatives to replace a certain product was determined by the following factors:

  • Degree of toxicity of the ingredients
  • Frequency of use by the staff
  • Volume of material used
  • Cost of product

Final Products and Outcomes

The students produced two documents - a cost/benefit effectiveness document and cleaning effectiveness document of alternative products to assist in the approval of revised methodologies.

The culmination of the students efforts resulted in a written recommendation of a revised set of practices, with accompanying documentation of the cleaning effectiveness test, to be instituted upon the approval of the Supervisor of Building and Grounds, Superintendent and School Committee.

The short-term impact consisted of students from diverse groups directly experiencing the benefit of TURI in a real life situation; by being actively involved in the research and decision making processes. I believe this type of involvement breeds personal commitment to the TURI goals. By taking appropriate actions to minimize hazardous cleaning materials from the school maintenance procedures, a healthier environment results for all.

The immediate long-term benefit would be to establish this program as a model for the town of Dracut to implement in all of the municipal buildings.

Potential cost savings

The Dracut High School piloted testing their preferred line of cleaning products over the next several months. Because some of the new products cost less and require less volume, there is a potential for a 50%savings in annual costs to the school. Of course, the "savings" to students, custodial, and faculty's health are immeasurable. 

Site Visits and Visiting Speakers

Prior to this process, the students visited the wastewater treatment plant of VeryFine in Littleton, to see Pollution Prevention Strategies that are successfully employed firsthand. Larry Rinbul, the chief operator gave us a great tour. We were most impressed by the fact that the water discharged to the Brook is actually improving the dissolved oxygen of the brook, raising it from 11/2 PPM to the state desired level of 7 ppm. It is a fantastic feat, considering the average wastewater is 250,000 gallons/day.

I thought it would be insightful for the students to visit the Wall EPA substation in Lawrence to see the other side of the picture when companies do not participate in Pollution Prevention and a strikeforce may be needed when EPA laws are violated. Ken Hume is the Station Manager .He arranged a wonderful tour of the facility in which we learned about the organic, inorganic and water analysis instrumentation and analysis. There, samples of soil, wastewater and air may be tested to answer one question - Are the levels of pollution above the acceptable level?

Barbara Eddy, Senior Inorganic Chemist of the EPA instrumentation and Analysis Division visited a group of students at Dracut High, where she talked about her research in heavy metals, focusing upon Mercury deposition in the Merrimack Valley and the process involved in sampling and identifying the point source pollution. She also provided insight in to the relationship between contaminates and aquatic life and quality of drinking water.

Career exploration was also an important part of these experiences, whether it is in the Lab, Business Office, Law or Photography, for example. 

Business Toxic Survey

In addition to Toxics Use Reduction in the school system, the students are also conducted a Business Toxic survey of 25 Dracut businesses to survey their current cleaning practices 


This page updated Monday July 23 2018