Research for Environmental Agencies
& Organizations: A Directed Study Course
The Regulated Community Compliance Project became the Directed Study Course Research for Environmental Agencies and Organizations in 2016. Each semester, students perform research tasks that assist environmental and public health officials in achieving their missions, sometimes continuing projects begun in previous semesters. The students work in teams, each taking a leadership role in one project, and a supportive role in others. Each week the entire class meets to review progress and to consider various strategies for addressing questions encountered. Team members communicate as needed with government officials, and end the class by presenting their work to them. The work is supervised by Richard Reibstein, lecturer in environmental law and policy, who spent 27 years as a state environmental official, (part of the time as a federal environmental attorney).
Fall 2017 Projects
Olivia Sproviero, Julia Masterman, and Samantha Morton reviewed current literature on behalf of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs on the impact of pesticides (neonicotinoids) on bees, actions that have been taken, and actions that can be taken.
For the City of Boston, students contacted every municipality in Massachusetts that had instituted programs for “Community Choice Aggregation (CCA)”, which allows a town or city to purchase electricity for its residents, giving them an additional choice beyond the utility’s choice of source power (residents can “opt-out”, or choose to remain with the utility plan). The students found that CCA has taken many forms, some of which have provided residents with affordable ways to choose cleaner energy, and in some cases, to promote local clean energy generation, which helps the regional economy. Students involved were: Matthew Garamella, Katharina Voehler, Bolaji Olateru-Olagbegi, Michel Silano, Casey Kelly, Yan Luofei, Madison Berman, and Daniella Meza Chavez. Katharina Voehler also produced a case study of Brookline’s program.
For the Boston Public Health Department, Hanaan Yazdi compared the toxicity of products for straightening hair, using the P2OASYS tool for comparing the hazards of constituent materials (https://p2oasys.turi.org/)
Hair Products Data Table
In support of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), Hunter Lambert investigated what schools and other state governments are doing to promote environmental literacy.
Also in collaboration with EEA, Samantha Morton researched efforts to promote the retention of trees in development.
Lastly for EEA, Luofei Yan evaluated efforts to assist low-income populations in purchasing or using electric vehicles.
Michael Silano, Julia Masterman, and Ruizhe Guo took different sections of a unique dataset of water quality measurements compiled over decades by former Massachusetts DEP water program developer Warren Kimball, developing different approaches to discerning trends in the information.
Spring 2017 Projects
For the Boston Public Health Commission, students assessed the current state of lead poisoning prevention in the city of Boston. Students proposed a communication plan to help further promote public awareness of how individuals in Boston can lower their risk for lead exposure. As a result of this project, a comprehensive Lead Fact Sheet was created for local distribution.
TOXICS AND MEDICAL PROVIDERS
For the Boston Public Health Commission, students wrote a draft survey to assess whether medical providers investigate concerning hazardous chemicals in the home or working environment, when patients present with symptoms that could be caused by toxic exposures. The students sent their draft survey to relevant experts to receive recommendations for revisions. The revised survey is below, and a plan for using it to further the development of awareness of what symptoms should be considered indicators of the need for an investigation of the cause of symptoms. Future work may focus on how to conduct investigations to determine the source of exposures.
TOXICS IN BLACK WOMEN’S HAIR PRODUCTS
For the Boston Public Health Commission students were tasked with analyzing the information on the toxicity of hair products for women of color and researching the availability of safer, alternative products. In order to discover safer alternatives, students researched the chemicals in hair products to find the most problematic ingredients, and compared these chemicals to the products on the market in over the counter hair relaxers and straighteners. This research was used to create a matrix of information on the risks associated with the toxic chemicals found in these products, and lists available alternatives. Because there are a limited number of available alternatives, the students are looking forward to further research and created a sample query letter to help consumers reach out to companies themselves about the toxicity of ingredients in products.
Taking the Sample Municipal Environmental Justice Ordinance that was created during the Fall 2016 semester, students investigated ways to improve the ordinance. Students contacted Environmental Justice leaders, professionals and educators to gather recommendations for improving the EJ ordinance. As a result of discussions with experts, students recommend emphasizing community economic development and affirmative efforts to engage affected citizens, and including a small fee in the development permit application process to fund community monitoring that supports cumulative impact assessment.
SOLAR AT WASTE SITES
Students researched the feasibility of community solar projects at waste sites in Massachusetts and identified potential high-priority sites based on Environmental Justice criteria. Case studies were done on four waste sites to investigate the site cleanup progress, history, and suitability for solar. Students sought to identify a potentially responsible party and groups that may be interested in the development of such a project at each waste site. The research was compiled in the report below.
WASTEWATER AND WATER QUALITY
Students used Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) and EPA’s Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMR) to find indications of pollutant discharges above permitted limits. This data was then cross-referenced with Environmental Justice indicators (ex. minority, income, English isolation) to observe where possible violations were occurring in EJ communities. This data was both graphed and mapped, using GIS, to suggest areas for applying the regulatory process of assessing total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).
For the Civil Rights Division of the New England Region of the US Environmental Protection Agency, students wrote an example of a municipal EJ policy to serve in the development of a model policy. The sample policy includes requirements for transparency, active efforts to inform and engage the public, and the implementation of an “Environmental Justice Community Impact Assessment” triggered by disproportionate impact. The impact assessment also includes strong provisions for good faith examinations of alternatives. The policy, a work in progress, is below. Please send comments or suggestions to email@example.com.
At the request of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources’ Leading by Example (Lbe) program, students were tasked with collecting and analyzing information on the practical aspects of installing solar canopies. Solar canopies are ground-mounted solar panels placed above parking lots or other non-building locations. Student researchers gathered data from numerous solar canopy vendors and sellers throughout the region, specifically regarding the design/structure, construction costs and operations of solar canopy installation, in order to garner a better understanding of the advantages and setbacks associated with establishing canopies. The goal of this project was to provide the Department of Energy Resources with a set of practical recommendations based on the students’ evaluation of the data, as Lbe prepares to launch its’ Solar Incentive Program.
Students used Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) and the EPA’s Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) to identify facilities that were non-compliant and whose discharging pollutants could be contributing to the impairment of their respective water-bodies. This data was both graphed and mapped, using GIS, to analyze these trends, isolating cases of noncompliance and areas for TMDL remediation. The students also took note of discrepancies between data sets and usability of the programs to provide suggestions/improvements to EPA. Moving forward, we are looking forward to more in-depth analysis into the already identified water-bodies and new ones.
Other Fall 2016 Projects
Also for the Leading by Example program, students gathered information on replacing gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn care equipment with new electrical versions, which are quieter and which do not have air-polluting emissions. The information, sufficient for the writing of specifications in purchase contracts, was also provided to the state’s purchasing office, which will query existing vendors on whether they can supply such equipment. That office informed the students that the information provided was sufficient for the process to be begun.
WASTE SITE VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE
At the request of the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanups of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), students examined information about existing waste sites where clean up has not been completed, and information about areas where increased storm frequency and intensity is likely to cause flooding, to identify waste sites where action should be taken to prevent the dispersal of contaminants. This was a continuation of a project begun in Spring, 2016, that demonstrated the value of using GoogleEarth for this task. In this semester, students used a GIS system, which DEP uses, and narrowed the analysis to sites where particular operations are in progress that require continued power to operate. DEP asked if it would be possible to present the results to the Licensed Site Professionals Association, as it would be of value for all cleanup professionals to see it.