Research for Environmental Agencies
Each semester, students perform research tasks that assist environmental and public health officials, nonprofit professionals and volunteer citizens in achieving their missions, sometimes continuing projects begun in previous semesters. The students work in teams, each taking responsibility for one project, and playing a supportive role in others. The work is supervised by Richard Reibstein, lecturer in environmental law and policy.
Summer 2019 Projects
COUNTING CARBON: For Cape Cod, Trenton Mulick assessed existing methods of calculating carbon emissions suitable for a county-wide effort. Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Accounting Methodologies (1). Liz Argo of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative wrote: “What a stellar job! The report totally provided the information and comparisons we sought.”
THE STATE OF INFORMATION CONCERNING NANOMATERIALS USE IN MASSACHUSETTS: For several interested parties working in coalition to promote policies to prevent the increase of risks to human and ecological receptors, Greylin Nielson consulted business library resources to find dozens of companies listed as using nanotechnologies, far more than responded to voluntary surveys from state and federal agencies. Greylin Nielsen Nanomaterials Greylin Nielsen Research Methodology Capital IQ Company Screening Report (1) Her presentation of findings at the Cambridge Department of Public Health was extremely well-received and several interested parties have asked for her report.
WHAT A TOWN CAN DO TO IMPROVE RECYCLING: Rayner Perdana assisted the newly established waste reduction and recovery task force of Lexington, MA in understanding how “contamination” of recyclables can be reduced: Improving Recycling In A Massachusetts Community report Contamination of Recyclables and their increasing cost (1) Rayner presented at a meeting at the town’s Community Center along with Kirstie Pecci (below), who leads the Zero Waste campaign of the Conservation Law Foundation. Feedback on Rayner’s presentation was enormously positive and the town is following up with suggestions to reduce contamination.
EMPOWERING COMMUNITY-BASED DEVELOPMENT: As a result of the report (see below, Fall 2018 projects)
Transforming Environmental Justice Neighborhoods into Green Communities, subsequent students have interested themselves in the problems that can result from success in improving impacted areas. Will Chang conducted a review of policies that cities can use to prevent displacement of existing residents, should development succeed and have the unfortunate side effect of raising rents. Empowering Community-Based Development. The report has been shared with a list of interested parties.
CHEMICAL RESILIENCE: For the Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Cory Seremetis produced a table of facilities storing hazardous materials in Barnstable and Taunton, with GPS coordinates to help emergency responders know where chemicals are, so that preventive inspections can ensure they are stored with precautions against such climate change impacts as increased risk of flooding, storm intensity, high winds, and lightning. Examination of the Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials table – including water reactive chemicals (coded 4.3) (Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations) – of especial importance to responders deciding whether to use water to address a fire – showed that few were present. As a result OTA has asked to continue working with the Research class. Taunton – priority facilities(1) (1) Barnstable- priority facilities(3) (1) DOT Water Reactives
Spring 2019 Projects
For a state Senator, students presented at the State House legislation to make it easier to sue those who recklessly placed lead in commerce, and presented at a conference on Fair Housing and Civil Rights. A student made a video about the bill.
Lead litigation legislation fact sheet: /rccp/files/2019/06/Lead-litigation-legislation-Fact-Sheet-New-2-1.docx
Presentation to legislators and others: /rccp/files/2019/06/Lead-1.pptx
For the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council students produced a report on how new development tax breaks intended to help impacted neighborhoods will not necessarily reduce Environmental Justice, because they may cause displacement through rising values or simply not be available where they’re needed.
COMMUNITY-DRIVEN ENVIRONMENTAL REDEVELOPMENT AND THE FLOW OF TAX-INCENTIVIZED FUNDING
For the nonprofit Quiet Communities (QC) students produced a compilation and analysis of municipal ordinances in the US restricting the use of gas-powered leafblowers. /rccp/files/2019/06/Recent-table-leaf-blower-ordinances-1.xlsx
For QC and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a student produced information about the recycling of electric batteries. /rccp/files/2019/06/Battery-Fact-Sheet-finalpub.docx
For the Commonwealth’s environmentally preferable purchasing office students researched what contracts for integrated pest management should include so the state can be sure its agencies get quality, low-or no-toxicity pest management./rccp/files/2019/06/IPM-Contract-Ideas.docx
For the Mystic River Watershed students produced analyses of both chemical storage and contaminated sites more vulnerable to flooding because of climate change, (including a ground-breaking effort to estimate the direction in which released contaminants would flow) and presented to experts working on the issue. Chemical Storage & Contamination Presentation (1)
Fall 2018 Projects
Students worked in teams to survey MA municipalities concerning what they are doing about lead pipes used to bring drinking water into homes, to find water pollution hotspots for a watershed association, to create a vision of how to transform highly impacted environmental justice neighborhoods into green communities, and to help a composting organization find a contaminated property that they could develop for siting a biodigester and community solar. Team: Aseel Alharthi, Katherine Calandriello, Yunhan Chen, Peiying Huang, Samantha Morton, Julia Nassar, Darden Pilkinton, Zachary Popp, Lydia Silber, Matthew Tate, Joshua Taylor, Emily Wexler, Katelyn Wittkowski.
LEAD IN WATER. Students contacted Massachusetts municipalities to find out what they are doing about lead water service lines.
WATER QUALITY DATA ANALYSIS
For the Neponset River Watershed Association, students examined data collected by Association volunteers for the NRWA’s staff scientist Chris Hirsch.
The students also prepared instruction concerning how the data can be analyzed using Excel.
TRANSFORMING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE NEIGHBORHOODS INTO GREEN COMMUNITIES
Students presented the following to officials of the City of Boston.
Students prepared an extensive set of recommendations that was also shared with the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Senior Boston staff circulated the report to the environmental department, stating “The students have prepared a great report and I’m sure that you’ll find much in it that will interest you.”
USING BROWNFIELDS FOR COMMUNITY SOLAR
Students assisted a composting cooperative (CERO) in assessing whether Boston-area brownfield sites were available and suitable for a community solar installation (to accompany a biodigester). This report includes general information on incentives for brownfield and community solar development. See the Spring 2018 project for more on this useful idea.
Spring 2018 Projects
All DC Fast Charging Stations in MA
For the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Walker Black and Bolaji Olagbegi examined potential sites for locating electric vehicle charging stations and what other states have learned, providing insights about charging time relative to time plugged in, strategic placement of sites, and cost of installation, and creating a map of current sites open to all members of the public. Stephen Russell of the Division of Energy Resources wrote: “The work they did on methodology for locating and installing Electric vehicle supply stations was outstanding.
This work has provided additional tools for the state as we install future Charging stations locations. The map has proven to be a useful tool.”
“Using data developed for MassDEP by previous students, Walker Black, Alexander Seal, Katharina Voehler, Chelsea Wolgel and Undraa Zayamandakh assessed the potential for using community (shared) solar at waste sites where cleanup has not been completed and which are located in Environmental Justice communities. The 24,000 acres that may be available for such development could produce an estimated 430 GWh/yr (supply for more than 38,000 homes), or 1,742 GWh/yr if current caps on solar development were lifted. The revenue from developing solar at these sites could be used to complete the cleanups and reduce energy bills for EJ communities. Students shared their results with staff of the joint committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy and MassDEP, and were thanked by both branches of government for new and useful information.”
Bolaji Olagbegi conducted outreach to medical educators concerning our previous work highlighting the need for improving the ability of the medical community to identify when it is necessary to investigate toxic exposure as a potential causative factor of the symptoms they observe in patients, and presented her work at the Massachusetts Sustainable Communities and Campuses conference.
Eliandro Tavares assisted in a public conversation on actions that can be taken to reduce lead poisoning at the 2018 Springfield Fair Housing and Civil Rights conference, where he noted that participants agreed that “Much more needs to be done to make sure lead is completely taken out from our buildings and water, we need more comprehensive data on lead contamination for all buildings and pipelines so that we know the true scale of the issue, and we need to find ways to better enforce lead abatement so that cutting corners is properly punished.” The group produced a strong consensus that a “lead awareness convention” would help spread the facts about lead to everyone, outside of the group of specialists represented at the meeting.
Forest conservation reduces carbon emissions, so can you get carbon credits – payments for reducing carbon dioxide emissions – for doing it? Robert O’Connor, Director of Conservation Services at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), assisted by forester William Van Doren, explained the complexities of the process, after which Chelsea Elyse, Alexander Kerr, Samantha Morton, Alexander Seal, Katharina Voehler, Luofei Yan, and Undraa Zayamandakh contacted the established registries and produced a draft guide to accessing the market. O’Connor wrote: “Your team of interns did an outstanding job of taking on a very complex topic with little oversight from EEA and produced a very useful and important product. Forest carbon credit projects are very complex and your student team was able to break the process into easily understandable steps and create a guide in clear and simple language that will be useful to communities all across the Commonwealth. 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.
Fall 2017 Projects
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.