Grant to enhance Lowell's environmental health

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By CHRISTOPHER SCOTT
Sun Staff

LOWELL - Monday's front-page story about litter and debris polluting city canals had Linda Silka fuming.

And it gave Silka, director of Universsity of Massachusetts Lowell's Center for Family, Work and Community, a good example for why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday during a City Hall press conference that it has chosen the university, Lowell Community Health Center and Coalition for a Better Acre to receive a $100,000 grant to improve the local environment.

"This," said Silka, holding up The Sun and reading the bold headline, "Littered legacy," "is what this (grant) is all about. This is a grant that says to all of us, 'Make the city a better place to live by working together.'"

Known as an environmental justice grant, the goal is to help residents learn steps they can take to address the problems of solid-waste disposal and indoor air pollution.

The agencies will focus their work on four of the city's poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods the Acre, Back Central, Lower Centralville and the Lower Highlands.

Over a three-year period, the partners will hold 12 educational sessions introducing nontoxic cleaning products and asthma-reducing products to residents. They will also hold eight sessions promoting recycling to help cut down on the amount of solid waste being sent to landfills and incinerators.

Laurie Stillman, executive director of the Boston-based Asthma Regional Council of New England, said the six-state region has the highest asthma rates in the nation, with Massachusetts notching the highest rates. One in five Massachusetts households has at least one case of childhood asthma, she said.

"If one in five households had a case of childhood cancer, there would be an uproar," Stillman said.

Yet there are things parents can do to eliminate "asthma triggers" from their households, said Ira Leighton, EPA deputy New England director. That might mean using non-toxic cleaners or installing different rugs or draperies.

"Little things can make a huge difference," he said.

Dorcas Grigg-Saito, executive director of the health center, agreed.

"I'm quite confident the partners, with all their experiences, can get together and improve the environmental health of Lowell," Grigg-Saito said.

Christopher Scott's e-mail address is cscott@lowellsun.com .