Massachusetts Effort Stops Toxics Before They Become Waste
Bay State's award-winning program uses integrated process to head off problems
A NEW anti-pollution initiative in Massachusetts, aimed at preventing or at least controlling toxic waste, is winning praise from both industry leaders and environmentalists.The pilot program, called the Blackstone Project, uses an integrated approach in monitoring air, water, and hazardous waste pollution. Not only does the program coordinate environmental inspections and regulations, but it also helps companies reduce toxic chemicals before they become waste. "The focus of the Blackstone Project was to get all these disciplines together and go in and look at one plant," says Myles Brown, public affairs officer at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). "We were looking at facilities one pipe at a time saying, 'What comes out of that pipe and how do you control it?' rather than looking at the [entire] facility and saying, 'What comes out of all those pipes? The project was one of the 10 winners of the 1991 Innovations in State and Local Governments program sponsored by the Ford Foundation and Harvard University. Each of the 10 programs receives a $100,000 grant from the foundation. The Massachusetts program, which began in 1989, primarily involves companies using heavy metals and hazardous materials along the Blackstone River, which runs through central Massachusetts. Bay State officials hope to expand it statewide by 1993. Most states treat different environmental mediums, such as air and water pollution, as separate entities. A given plant may be inspected by several different agencies, each following its own regulations, say Bay State environmental officials. But in many cases, "procedure" ends up hindering the ultimate goal of reducing and preventing pollution. "We actually had a case where an air-pollution inspector showed up at a site and stepped over leaking hazardous waste, looked at the air-pollution control system and said, 'That looks fine,' and never reported back about the hazardous waste," says Massachusetts DEP Commissioner Daniel Greenbaum. But the Blackstone Project did not gain recognition simply for streamlining the state's environmental bureaucracy. What makes the program unique is its emphasis on pollution prevention. It provides technical assistance to help companies cut down on use of toxic materials. Other states have attempted to streamline their environmental departments as well, but none have combined that with such a strong emphasis on toxic reduction as Massachusetts has with Blackstone Project, he says. The emphasis on source reduction grew out of the state's Toxic Use Reduction Act, which encourages industry to revise production and improve efficiency to get rid of toxic chemicals earlier in the pipeline. Industry leaders say new awareness about source reduction has forced them to alter plant operations. Jordan Levy, executive vice-president of Parker Metal Corporation of Worcester, Mass., says the work of the Environmental Protection Agency, the DEP, and the Blackstone Project combined have helped his company eliminate toxic chemicals in production. "We've changed our whole metal-plating process to get rid of the chromates and copper," he says. "We got rid of an awful lot of chemicals." Robert Ruddock of Associated Industries of Massachusetts says the Blackstone Project has three important benefits: multi-medium inspections; well-trained, knowledgeable staff; and a technical assistance program. The technical assistance is important, he says, because it provides important follow-through. "There is a delivery of more information than just, 'You're wrong,' or 'There is a problem. The Blackstone Project is funded by grants from the state, the National Governors' Association, and the Environmental Protection Agency.