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TURI Presents 'Champion' Awards at State House

Dan Schmidt Recognized for Research on Greener Substances

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Rep. James Miceli , right, recognizes Assoc. Prof. Daniel Schmidt with the “University Research Champion” award for researching safer alternatives to toxic chemicals with seed funding from TURI.

By Karen Angelo

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) named Assoc. Prof. Daniel Schmidt a 2012 Champion of Toxics Use Reduction at a June ceremony at the Massachusetts State House. The annual awards recognize outstanding leaders who have reduced toxic chemical use in Massachusetts through innovation and outreach. See photos from the event.

“Everyone we honor here today is a hero for protecting public health and the environment,” said Michael Ellenbecker, professor of work environment and director of TURI. “You’ve worked hard to find innovative ways to reduce toxic chemical use and educate the public on how to make safer choices.”

Schmidt, a professor in the Plastics Engineering Department, received the “University Research Champion” award for researching safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals with seed funding from TURI. His past projects have included research on nanoclays and vegetable oil-based additives to create phthalate-free PVC. More recently, he has worked to develop bisphenol A (BPA)-free epoxy coatings. BPA is a component of the epoxy coatings lining a majority of the more than 100 billion food and beverage cans used in the U.S. each year. 

“BPA is estrogenic in nature, and we are all exposed – a fact that has generated significant anxiety,” said Schmidt at the State House ceremony. “Not long ago, I had an idea for how to eliminate BPA and its analogs from can coatings without compromising cost or performance. TURI was the only option to fund this sort of work. They chose to do so in spite of significant cuts to their budget that year. Their support is why we’re here today.” 

Schmidt has since succeeded in making the BPA-free material. The performance is promising. In fact, several major manufacturers of can coatings and epoxy resins have shown interest. 

“The work that TURI supports has the potential to create jobs, protect our health and improve our lives,” he said. “As with everything in life, there is no guarantee of success – but the payoffs are enormous, and as events like this make clear, I am far from alone in my desire to pursue more sustainable ways of doing things. With TURI’s continued support – and yours as well – I hope to see many more groups and researchers be given the opportunity to make a difference in the future.” 

Addressing the audience of legislators, industry members, community groups, academia and environmental advocates, Provost Ahmed Abdelal commented that the TURI model of collaboration among government, academia and industry spurs innovation. 

“The collaborative model has created opportunities for the next generation of scientists and engineers to influence safer material choices as they design the innovations of tomorrow,” said Abdelal. 

2012 Champions of Toxics Use Reduction

  • Independent Plating of Worcester, which eliminated the use of hexavalent chromium, a known human carcinogen that is designated as a Higher Hazard Substance under the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act, in one of its process lines.
  • King and Queen Cleaners of Milford, which converted its dry cleaning shop from using perchloroethylene (perc), a probable human carcinogen, to dedicated wet cleaning. 
  • Brazilian Women’s Group (BWG), Allston, for its “Wiping out Toxics Use in Housecleaning” project.
  • Montachusett Opportunity Council (MOC), Inc, Fitchburg, for its “Green and Clean in North Central Mass” project
  • Norfolk County 7 Public Health Coalition, for its “Greening Nail Salons for Employees and Communities” project.
  • Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Springfield, for its “Creating Safeground: Transitioning Western Mass. Parks to an Organic Land Care Management Plan” project. 
  • Assoc. Prof. Dan Schmidt

Note: TURI has issued this year’s request for proposals for academic research grants. All UMass faculty are invited to apply. The deadline is July 27, 2012.