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U. receives nearly $800,000 grant for pollution prevention initiatives

Rutgers was selected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as 1 of 24 entities awarded a grant to combat pollution in local communities. – Photo by Maxim Tolchinsky / Unsplash

On October 12, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the approval of a $787,527 grant to Rutgers under the agency's Environmental Justice in Communities program, according to an EPA press release.

The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers will utilize the grant to assist small businesses in New Jersey in reducing hazardous waste. These institutions work alongside the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to reduce pollution at the source in vulnerable communities.

The EPA defines hazardous waste as waste detrimental to human health and the environment. It lists some common hazardous wastes, such as asphalt in heavy construction and acetone in painting.

Jeanne Herb, executive director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at the Bloustein School and co-director of the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center, described how the University secured this EPA funding.

The EPA requested proposals from interested parties, which aligned closely with Rutgers' goals and its areas of interest in pollution prevention, leading to Herb and her team filing a successful application, she said.

The first step of this project is analyzing hazardous material usage and generation in New Jersey, especially in communities identified in New Jersey Environmental Justice Law and areas prone to flooding. Rutgers will assist local businesses located in the intersection of these three areas.

"New Jersey is a state that has historically had a strong industrial base that uses, manufactures and releases hazardous materials," she said. "Historically, EPA's Pollution Prevention focus was on supporting efforts to provide technical and engineering assistance to businesses to reduce hazardous material use and generation."

This recent grant is unique in that it also involves community-based organizations in pollution prevention practices, Herb said.

The University had already identified potential climate-related flood hazard areas when the EPA provided a similar grant to Rutgers in 2017. This new project will build upon the previous work of flood-prone areas and extend how hazardous waste compounds risks and exposure for residents living in those communities.

Herb said that, unlike larger businesses, small businesses lack support when adopting pollution prevention practices. She said they both can still reduce their hazardous waste by substituting it with safer alternatives or reducing raw materials at the source.

"Small businesses may not know where to start or how to identify those steps (and) this federal funding … will support Rutgers program to provide the technical assistance needed to these businesses," Lisa Garcia, EPA regional manager, said in the press release.

The grant also emphasizes the intersection between hazardous waste and environmental justice, Herb said.

Communities that comprise minorities, lower-income or non-English speaking households experience disproportionate exposure to industrial hazards and climate-changing conditions. Consequently, these vulnerable populations suffer from worse health outcomes, she said.

Herb said she hopes to use the EPA grant over its two-year lifespan to create models for interactions between communities and businesses as they work together to reduce hazardous waste consumption and generation.

"The idea behind this project is to create models in which community-based organizations and businesses — especially small businesses — can work together to achieve safer outcomes for everyone," she said.

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