Every mountain, every valley, every creek on this Earth is home to creatures, organisms and spirits that have roamed the Earth a good deal longer than we have.

And yet it is we who have been gifted with the power to preserve, destroy, or restore. We are the ones who must choose. What will we create, as our legacy to the future?


Toxics Use Reduction Institute, Massachusetts.

First published in LEDIS, Local Economic Development Information Service, 2005

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) researches, tests and promotes alternatives to toxic chemicals used in Massachusetts industries and communities.

All across the industrialized world, there is concern about the use and release of toxic chemicals, and their association with cancer, birth defects, learning disorders, and other illnesses. In the late 1980s, two opposing sides in Massachusetts were arguing over what to do about these hazardous chemicals. On the environmental side, a coalition led by the National Toxics Campaign and the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group wanted to see certain chemicals restricted or banned, while on the industry side, a business coalition led by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts wanted to make sure legislation would not cause companies to leave the state in search of more relaxed rules elsewhere.

In 1989, the Massachusetts Legislature encouraged the two sides to talk together, and make concessions. As a result, the ground-breaking Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) was passed unanimously by both houses of the Massachusetts State Legislature, and became law in July 1989.

The goal of the Act is to promote safer and cleaner production, while enhancing the economic viability of Massachusetts firms. Toxics use reduction focuses on the use of toxics and the generation of wastes in the manufacturing process; it differs from the normal regulatory approach such as the federal Toxics Release Inventory, which seeks to track or control wastes once they have been produced.

Aims and Objectives
The Toxics Use Reduction Institute was established by the 1989 legislation as a state agency housed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell with the purpose to research, test and promote alternatives to toxic chemicals used in Massachusetts, and provide the tools and resources which could help local businesses and communities to reduce their use of toxic chemicals, while making Massachusetts a safer place to work and live, and promoting greater efficiency and competitiveness.

The Act set a state-wide goal of reducing toxic waste generated by 50% by the year 1997, using toxics use reduction as the means. It established toxics use reduction as the preferred means of achieving compliance with other federal and state legislation, relating (eg) to hazardous wastes, worker safety, and the public’s exposure to toxic chemicals. The Act also establishes the public’s right to know by means of the annual Toxics Use Reduction Information Release, which TURI places on the Internet, allowing communities to find out what’s being used and what’s being released locally.

Under the Act, every company in Massachusetts which manufactures or processes more than 25,000 lbs or otherwise uses more than 10,000 lbs a year of certain listed toxic substances is required to prepare a detailed Toxics Use Reduction Plan. In the Plan, they must examine how and why toxic chemicals are used at their facility, evaluate their options, and produce two- and five-year goals for the reduction of the chemical by-products from each listed chemical.

The plan has to include information about the technical feasibility of implementing various chemical reduction techniques, the economic impacts of each technique, and a schedule for implementation. Companies are also required to report annually on the quantities they use, generate as waste, and ship as a product, and to pay a toxics use fee. Each plan has to be certified by a certified Toxics Use Reduction Planner. In 1989, these conditions applied to around 700 industrial facilities.

For companies whose managers’ minds are pre-occupied with the everyday business of production, having now to produce a Toxics Use Reduction Plan could be a major headache. Therefore, the Act set up two agencies to help companies understand the science and practice of toxics use reduction – the Office of Technical Assistance, to provide direct on-site assistance to companies, and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute, to provide education, research, demonstration and information services.

The benefits of all this to Massachusetts are considerable. Firstly, less toxics use means less pollution risks, reduced handling, and reduced worker exposure. Secondly, by reducing their use of toxics, companies benefit from reduced operating and purchasing costs, reduced hazardous waste storage and disposal costs, and increased efficiencies. Thirdly, less toxics use generally means less stringent permitting and paperwork. And fourthly, toxics use reduction helps to reduce long-term public health and environmental risks, which carry a significant health care cost.

What is Toxics Use Reduction?
Toxics use reduction describes a range of environmental protection strategies aimed at minimizing the input of toxic materials into an industrial process, and the generation of harmful byproducts. This includes several strategies, such as:

  • Replacing toxic materials with non-toxic alternatives, such as substituting less toxic pigments for heavy metal-based pigments;
  • Altering a production process to reduce the need for toxic inputs, such as replacing a solvent-based parts cleaning system used in metal finishing with an agitating parts washer that uses an aqueous cleaning solution;
  • Replacing or upgrading older, less efficient machinery and processes, such as installing production equipment with computerized controls for greater process efficiency, e.g., in textile dye baths;
  • Using good housekeeping practices to avoid pollution risks, such as instituting regular equipment maintenance to check for leaks, replace seals, etc.;
  • Using filtration and other closed loop methods to get more mileage out of toxic materials before they must be disposed or discharged, such as installing a system in a metal cutting operation that filters, cleans and recycles the coolant used on the machines.

TURI’s staff are engaged in five major areas:

Firstly, they work with industry, holding working meetings with companies that form part of the supply chain of a product, and establishing peer networks and on-line forums which help companies learn about each other’s best practices and emerging global trends which impact their businesses. They inform industry of the latest cleaner technologies and materials, and sponsor university research to develop solutions where none currently exist.

Secondly, they provide training for toxics use reduction professionals, civic and community groups, vocational students, and government agency staff, creating better understanding about toxic chemicals, chemical use substitution, pesticide reduction and specific technologies such as lead-free electronics.

Thirdly, they operate a library and information clearinghouse related to toxics use reduction, including a free biweekly email service (Greenlist Bulletin) which summarizes the latest reports and papers.

Fourthly, they operate a laboratory service that provides performance testing for safer cleaning alternatives for specific applications, with a special focus on aqueous/semi-aqueous cleaners and state-of-the-art surface cleanliness analysis.

Finally, TURI provides Toxics Use Reduction Networking (TURN) grants for community groups, and provides toxics use reduction trainings for Massachusetts communities and municipalities, to encourage collaborative action, and develop model projects and materials that other communities can copy.

In 2005, community grants have been awarded to the Healthy Boston Schools Janitorial Project, to reduce the use of toxic cleaning chemicals; to the Vietnamese Healthy Nail Salon Initiative, to evaluate and promote safer products; to the Model Cosmetology Salon Project, to incorporate toxics use reduction into the curriculum and design of a new vocational school; to a pesticide reduction and alternatives project in Westford; and to a project to identify and reduce long-term pesticide exposure in humans and wildlife. Grants were also awarded to develop a toxic use reduction training manual for workers and labour unions; to build a community partnership in a town whose citizens were establishing a toxics use reduction committee, and developing a toxics use reduction education program; and to the Metro South Chamber of Commerce, which launched Massachusetts’ first Chamber-initiated toxics use reduction campaign.

Structure and Finance
TURI is a Massachusetts state-funded agency, based at the University of Massachusetts Lowell . It is part of a partnership which implements the Toxics Use Reduction Act, in conjunction with a 7-member appointed Administrative Council on Toxics Use Reduction, the Department of Environmental Protection, which gathers the Reduction Plans and reports from the major users, and the Office of Technical Assistance, which provides confidential engineering and scientific advice to companies. TURI’s current annual budget from the state is $1.2 million, which is financed from the toxics use fees collected under the Act.

The performance of TURA and TURI can be measured in four ways: as a reduction in the total amount of toxic substances used; as a financial benefit to the companies involved; as a benefit to the Massachusetts economy; and as a benefit to people’s health, and the environment.

Overall, the Toxics Use Reduction Act has been an outstanding success. The goal of a 50% reduction in toxic byproduct generation was met in 1998, and industry has continued to reduce its use of toxics since then. From 1990 to 2002, after the data has been adjusted for a 22% increase in production, the Core Group of industries representing about 50% of the total 2002 toxics use:

  • Toxic chemical use by 42%
  • Toxic byproducts by 67%
  • Toxics shipped in product by 58%
  • Toxic releases to the environment by 92%
  • Toxic transfers offsite for further waste management by 54%

Since 1990, over 1,000 Massachusetts firms have participated in the program, and around 450 no longer produce enough toxics to meet the thresholds for participation.

On the business level, a 1997 evaluation of 434 companies showed that 67% of the companies implementing toxucs use reduction reported a cumulative direct cost savings of $14 million from 1990 to 1997 for the businesses involved ($77 million in costs, $91 million in benefits), plus additional health, environmental and other benefits.

Boston Retail Products, in Medford, which makes custom retail fixtures for Home Depot, reduced its VOC emissions from spray painting by 86% by adopting an alternative paint formulation, eliminating the use of xylene, and replacing old, inefficient spray guns. As a result of their improved worker health and safety, they reduced their workers compensation liability costs from $450,000 to $80,000.

Poly-Plating Inc, which produces nickel-plated parts for industry, involved its plating employees in redesigning its nickel-plating methods. They reduced their acid use by 96%, their acid waste disposal costs by 91%, and their water use and sewage fees by 98%, for a total annual savings of $107,000, and a payback period for the investment of 25 months.

For Massachusetts as a whole, TURA is helping industries compete more strongly in the global market, since the Act is helping them to meet the new standards for toxics reduction being required by the European Union and by Japanese manufacturers. TURI’s Wire and Cable Supply Chain Initiative, for instance, will enable Massachusetts manufacturers to develop lead-free wire and cable that will meet the EU and Japan’s strict new requirements.

On the health and environmental front, the overall reduction in chemical use and emissions is a clear benefit to humans, wildlife, and the environment. Within this overall reduction, while the amount of carcinogenic chemicals being used fell by 5% between 1994 and 1998, the amount being released into the environment fell by 77%.

Since 1997, TURI has shifted to an emphasis on the more hazardous chemicals. In 2002, the agencies initiated a High Priority Substances program, and chose 5 chemicals to focus more resources on: lead, mercury, arsenic, trichloroethylene and dioxin. TURI has focused heavily on lead and TCE reduction. The lead elimination is being driven by the European Union’s directives on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment, and Restriction of Hazardous Substances. For several years TURI had been facilitating the identification and testing of alternative materials with the supply chains impacted by these directives.

For further information contact :
Liz Harriman
Deputy Director,
Toxics Use Reduction Institute
University of Massachusetts Lowell
One University Avenue
Lowell, Massachusetts 01854-2866
Tel 978.934.3346
Fax 978.934.3050