Earth Day 2010 Boston: EPA Merit Awards

BOSTON, Massachusetts, April 22, 2010 (ENS) – Celebrating Earth Day’s 40th anniversary in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England Office is presenting its annual Environmental Merit Awards.

Presented by the EPA New England since 1970, this year the awards recognize contributions to environmental awareness and problem solving by 40 people and groups across New England from a Harvard professor to a sixth grader.

“Today, on this milestone anniversary of Earth Day, I’d like to acknowledge and honor people, communities and businesses that have made significant strides in protecting New England’s health,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA New England.

Seven people and 10 organizations from Massachusetts are being honored today.

A Lifetime Achievement Merit Award was presented to Professor Jack Spengler and George Buckley, who offer Environmental Management courses as part of the Harvard University Extension School Distance Education Program.

The program founded by Spengler and Buckley now includes over 20 courses, and they have become leaders in distance education programs, virtual field trips and sustainability. More than 5,000 students from business, industry, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, the military, education and the media have have taken courses in environmental management, global climate change, sustainable communities, ocean management, and many other specialized courses.

An individual Merit Award was presented to Jacqui Vachon-Jackson and Steve Fischer for protecting people in Worcester from exposure to toxic lead. As director of housing programs for the Worcester Community Development Program, Vachon-Jackson has won more than $46 million of federal Housing and Urban Development lead abatement grants to help make low-income housing safe. Fischer of the Worcester Regional Environmental Council started and coordinated the Worcester Community Mobilization Network to prevent childhood lead poisoning in Worcester.

One of the Merit Awards given to environmental, community, academia and nonprofit organizations was presented to a New England-wide group known as Partnerships for Green Jobs for the Water Sector.

This partnership takes in the Massachusetts Water Works Association; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; Minuteman Career and Technical High School of Lexington, Massachusetts; the Connecticut Section of American Water Works Association’s Water and People Program based in Portland; the Connecticut Department of Public Health; and the New England Water Works Association.

Up to 50 percent of drinking water operators in the United States will be eligible for retirement in five to 10 years, with New England the hardest hit. The Massachusetts and Connecticut agencies and associations named in this award have pulled together to solve this upcoming crisis while fostering a new trained work force. Massachusetts and Connecticut are training a new group of water system operators. To promote enthusiasm for the water profession, these states formed unique public-private partnerships that are national models.

Narrow River (Photo by John McNamara courtesy Narrow River Preservation Association)

Four individuals and one organization from Rhode Island were honored with Merit Awards. Richard Grant, president of the Narrow River Preservation Association, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award for his work on cleaning the Narrow River, a tidal inlet that opens into the Atlantic Ocean at Narragansett Beach.

With help from EPA and the town of Narragansett, he spearheaded the program that has completed three of the 11 proposed detention pond systems at the river’s edge, replacing straight drainage piping of contaminated runoff that previously flowed unfiltered into the Narrow River.

From New Hampshire, three individuals and two groups received Merit Awards.

An award was presented to the New England Carbon Challenge, started in 2007 by Julia Dundorf of Clean Air Cool Planet and Denise Blaha of the University of New Hampshire as the New Hampshire Carbon Challenge to address climate change as well as poor air quality in New England.

The goal is to help residents identify actions they can take to reduce energy consumption, energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. With its emphasis on metrics, the group’s web-based Carbon Calculator tracks progress in each community that uses it.

Now expanded into the New England Carbon Challenge, the effort has to date reduced emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 17.5 million pounds and has saved residents $1.8 million.

Three organizations in Vermont were honored with Merit Awards today, including the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse helps its 10 member states, including Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, put into effect toxics-in-packaging laws. Over the past few years, the clearinghouse has used x-ray fluorescent technology to screen more than 750 packaging samples to detect the presence of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium regulated by state laws.

The clearinghouse in 2007 first sent the results of its screening projects to companies distributing packaging that allegedly violated state laws. As a result, companies changed their actions, reducing the amount of toxic packaging entering the solid waste stream. Many of the companies contacted were nationally recognized brand owners with great influence. The changes made have had a tremendous ripple effect throughout the world-wide packaging supply chain.

Two people from Maine were honored at the ceremony in Faneuil Hall today, including Sophie Towle, a sixth grader from South Berwick, Maine who led her school to take on a composting program, and the spread the program to two other schools. She convinced her school cafeteria to switch from polystyrene bowls to compostable sugar cane bowls. She made bookmarks out of recycled materials and sold them to raise money for real silverware instead of throw-away plastic, until she learned that the school district would save money by switching to metal cutlery.

Finally, a Lifetime Achievement Merit Award was presented to environmental educator and conservationist W. Donald Hudson, Jr., who joined the staff of the Chewonki Foundation in 1966 and has been president since 1991.

Capping decades of land preservation work, in 2009, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company asked Hudson and Chewonki to manage the restoration of fish passage on Montsweag Brook, the largest stream in Wiscasset, as part of a natural resources damages settlement.

This requires the removal of a dam at the Maine Yankee site that is expected to result in the return of as many as seven species of fish to the brook.

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