Faculty, Students Honored at State House
By Karen Angelo
Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan of plastics engineering was among the honorees who received a “Champion of Toxics Use Reduction” award at a June ceremony at the Massachusetts State House.
He was recognized by state legislators and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) for researching safer alternatives to toxic chemicals used to make furniture and textiles fire resistant. Studies show that the toxic substances are detected in human blood and breast milk.
“TURI has recognized that it is important to channel the curiosity of scientists to invent the next generation of cleaner and greener materials to replace existing toxic materials,” said Nagarajan, who acknowledged the work of his colleague Prof. Jayant Kumar of Physics and his graduate students, who joined him at the event.
In April, those graduate students won
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) award of $75,000 for the promising research that was funded by TURI.
Nagarajan is also researching safer alternatives to toxic surfactants found in cleaning products. Some of these degrade in the environment and produce toxic products that mimic estrogen in the human body.
During the ceremony, Michael Ellenbecker, professor of Work Environment at UMass Lowell and director of TURI, praised the honorees for finding innovative ways to reduce toxic chemical use and educating the public on how to make safer choices.
“Every one we honor here today is a hero for protecting public health and the environment,” he said.
Keynote speaker Sen. Marc Pacheco, co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, said that Massachusetts continues to lead the nation in environmental leadership and stewardship.
“Our relationship between higher education, scientists and the business community is one we should be proud of,” he said.
Other recipients of the “Champion of Toxics Use Reduction” award were:
Ophir Optics of North Andover, which reduced its use of volatile chemicals and generation of hazardous waste, and increased the energy efficiency of its manufacturing operations.
Ace Cleaners of North Andover, which converted its dry cleaning shop to dedicated wet cleaning technology with the help of a TURI grant to eliminate the use of perchloroethylene (perc), a probable human carcinogen.
Boston Public Health Commission, which worked with auto body and repair shops to replace products that contain toxics, such as toluene and perchloroethylene, with a trial of non-toxic, water-based alternatives.
Brazilian Women’s Group of Allston, which increased awareness among the Brazilian community of less toxic cleaners by conducting training and producing a radio talk show and an advertisement that was shown on Globo International Network.
Frank Newhall Look Memorial Park in Florence, which transitioned 35,000 square feet of lawn to organic management, conducted workshops, presented at public events and worked toward creating a town pesticide policy or bylaw.
Groundwork Lawrence, which educated 300 community members, including youths, on toxics found in household cleaners and personal care products, and conducted workshops and distributed materials about safer products.
Northeast Organic Farming Association in Barre, which presented organic lawn care workshops in 10 towns and cities across the state to teach homeowners how to care for lawns without pesticides.