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In 1986, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by then President Ronald Reagan. Section 126 of SARA mandated that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop standards to protect the health and safety of workers engaged in hazardous waste site operations and emergency response to hazardous materials incidents (HAZWOPER). These agencies were to include the strongest health and safety training requirements ever to be included in such regulations. Section 126 of SARA also called for allocation of monies from the Superfund, the nation’s fund for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, for a national program to provide training grants to “non-profit” organizations that could develop and deliver health and safety training for HAZWOPER workers. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) established the Superfund Worker Training Program in September of 1987, and issued eleven awards to organizations throughout the U.S. TNEC was one of those eleven awarded organizations.
At the time, TNEC’s member organizations included the Work Environment Program of the University of Lowell, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (RICOSH), The Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health (ConnectiCOSH), the Maine Labor Group on Health, and Harvard, Boston, Tufts, and Yale Universities. By spring 1988, TNEC had developed a course for hazardous waste site workers (40-hour), hazardous waste management workers at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulated Treatment, Storage, and Disposal sites (40-hour and 24-hour), municipal emergency response workers (24-hour), and several other health and safety courses. All of these courses met the requirements of the new OSHA HAZWOPER standard, 29 CFR 1910.120.
By the end of its third year, TNEC, under the direction of Professor Charles Levenstein and managed by Jack Luskin, (currently Senior Associate Director, Education and Training of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute) had become a leader in Hazardous Waste Site and Emergency Response training in New England. More than 2,000 workers had been trained in more than 100 courses. TNEC’s teams of trainers were setting the standards for high quality, worker-oriented, participatory and hands-on health and safety training in New England.
In 1991, the U.S. Congress authorized funding to continue the Superfund Worker Training Program. In 1992, TNEC was refunded for another three years, and in 1995, for another five years. With the round of grant funding in 1992, TNEC, under the direction of the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), included a slightly different set of member organizations. The other universities, whose experts in occupational health and safety had helped to develop the curricula and training program, were no longer needed. The Maine Labor Group on Health left to be part of a national consortium, and two new groups joined the Consortium: the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (Western MassCOSH), and the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NHCOSH). Along with MassCOSH, RICOSH, and ConnectiCOSH, these five New England health and safety advocacy organizations have worked in collaboration with the UML program since 1992.
In 1990, when Jack Luskin left TNEC to help build the then newly established Toxics Use Reduction Institute, Craig Slatin was hired to manage the Consortium’s program. Slatin came from the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industry’s Division of Occupational Hygiene, where he had been an occupational health specialist in the Right to Know unit. In 1992 he became the Project Director, and in 1995 assumed the role of Principal Investigator from Professor Charles Levenstein.
From 1987 until September 1999, TNEC was part of the broader program under the UMass Lowell Department of Work Environment. In 2001, TNEC became a major project of the newly formed Center for Public Health Research and Health Promotion, which maintained strong ties with the Department of Work Environment. TNEC’s program has supported the growth of several other worker training efforts in Massachusetts and at UML. Since 1995, TNEC has collaborated with JFY Networks, formerly Jobs for Youth Boston, by providing 40-hour hazardous waste site worker health and safety training for students enrolled in their Environmental Technology Training Program. This has been a key training element in TNEC’s environmental justice efforts.
Over the years, TNEC has collaborated with a number of other job training programs including STRIVE and Boston Connects in Boston, two Lowell programs: Environmental Justice on Brownfields Sites (JOBS) based at UMass Lowell and the Coalition for a Better Acre, Groundwork Providence (RI) and the Hartford (CT) Job Funnel. These programs provide basic life skills, jobs skills, basic science, and health, safety and environmental training for low income, minority residents of Boston and Lowell who wish to pursue a career as either hazardous waste remediation workers or environmental technicians.
Over the nearly twenty years that TNEC has been part of the cooperative agreement with NIEHS’ Worker Education Training Program (WETP) it has worked on many important WETP projects. Early on, TNEC helped in the process to draft and promote The Interpretive Guidance to the Minimum Criteria for Hazardous Waste Worker Training (Appendix E of the HAZWOPER standard); and then to update this Guidance to apply to HAZWOPER-Supporting and All Hazards Prevention, Preparedness and Response. TNEC has worked with the WETP as a whole to look at best practices and lessons learned and engaged in the strategic planning process for the national program’s future direction. Additionally, TNEC has partnered with individual WETP awardee organizations. TNEC’s participation through these collaborations and diverse projects has served to strengthen the consortium as well as the work of other WETP awardees. Projects have included:
TNEC has worked with more than 2,000 New England employers, and provided training to many of the major environmental and health and safety regulatory agencies in New England, including the U.S. EPA and OSHA, Region I. TNEC’s adherence to NIEHS’s Minimum Criteria for Worker Health and Safety Training for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response ensures the provision of high quality training from one of the nation’s model health and safety training programs.