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Group works to create a cleaner, safer world

By Used with permission from the Eagle Tribune Online. By Jennifer D. Jordan Eagle-Tribune Writer

BOSTON -- One cup of white wine vinegar dissolved in water cleans linoleum just as well as Mr. Clean, everyday table salt removes wine stains and a dash of club soda takes care of spills on upholstery.

These may sound like your grandmother's household cleaning tips, but a group dedicated to reducing toxic waste wants to popularize them again, bringing more people back to simple cleaning remedies and avoiding harsher cleaning products that can harm the environment.

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts Lowell started giving out grants to communities seven years ago, and last year Family Services Inc. of Lawrence, a nonprofit social services agency, received one.

The organization was honored Tuesday at the Statehouse for its work to educate young families about potentially hazardous toxins in their homes.

It used the $10,000 grant for a "Healthy Kids" program, a bilingual awareness program for families with young children in Lawrence and Andover, to educate them about the hazards of products in their home and how to use safer alternatives.

"I'm a big supporter of the Institute, because they promote creative and innovative ways to reduce the use of toxins," said state Sen. Susan C. Tucker, D-Andover, who spoke at the ceremony honoring the six projects supported by the Institute in 2002. "In the end, we have to reduce the use of these toxins, rather than burning or burying them in landfills."

Often, people have no idea how many potentially hazardous products are in their homes, educators said.

"It really surprised them, when we'd talk about how harmful some lawn pesticides are or about how some dry cleaning chemicals can cause cancer," said Ronnie Ginsberg, a psychologist who ran programs in Andover.

The program, which reached between 100 and 180 people, according to Elizabeth Sweeney, director of programs for Family Services Inc., was successful enough to prod the agency to apply for more money next year to continue getting the word out. They still haven't heard if they'll receive more money, but are hopeful, Sweeney said.

"We're not asking people to make huge swings in behavior, but smaller changes that will create a healthier environment for their families," Sweeney said. "When you tell people, this will help your child, they usually do it."

The program taught families safer ways to use existing products, such as spraying Windex on cloths to reduce the amount inhaled, as well as information about natural cleansers that aren't toxic and are frequently cheaper, like baking powder, vinegar and lemons.

Gloria Gonzales spearheaded the bilingual program in Lawrence, talking to families about potential toxins in their kitchens, bathrooms and garages.