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EPA grant to fund plans to cut toxic pollution

Date: 1/24/2011

Jan. 24, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — The city received a grant of $84,700 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Jan. 20 that will be used to address toxic pollution in Springfield.

The Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) grant is "an opportunity to bring the community together to address health concerns," Kathleen Szegda, director of the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, part of the Healthy Environment, Healthy Springfield group (HEHS).

Asthma rates in the area are double that of the statewide average, she said.

This CARE grant is a level one grant, which funds planning and organizing, she explained. HEHS hopes it will then receive a level two grant that would help fund implementation of the plans it develops.

Members of HEHS include the Pioneer Valley Asthma Coalition, Partners for a Healthier Community, Springfield Mayor's Office, Springfield Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, Springfield Partners for Community Action, University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences and Springfield Renaissance School.

The press event was presented at a room at the Renaissance School with walls displaying dozens of posters made by students on the theme of health and environmental concerns. The HEHS plans to reproduce the posters and distribute them around the city.

The school will host a community forum on health hazards on Feb. 10.

According to a press release distributed at the event, projects undertaken by the HEHS to reduce pollution might include increasing recycling in the city, expanding green space, using vacant lots for community gardens and increasing renewable energy use.

The same release noted that, in 2009, there were about 3.2 million pounds of chemicals released into the environment

Patrick Sullivan, director of the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, said asthma rates are as high as 40 percent in some city schools. His department has been working to correct indoor pollution in the schools building that might contribute to asthma, he added.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said he is personally concerned about the issue, as one of his daughters has a respiratory illness.

When asked to comment on the proposed biomass plant in Springfield, which opponents say will increase pollution in Hampden County, Szegda, said the grant might help the city "to work with the company [Palmer Renewable Energy] to develop alternatives and to learn what can be done to minimize the pollution if the biomass plant comes here."

George Frantz, representing the EPA Region One, said this is the fifth year for the CARTE grants and that under the Obama administration, the agency has made community health initiatives a priority.

Referring the students gathered for the event, Frantz said, "As we work toward cleaner land and cleaner water, we constantly keep in mind a new generation is coming behind [us].


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