Alicia McCarthy (Right) works with students in the TURI lab, located in the Boott mills (Courtesy of TURI).
Ryan Baldera, 32, of Lawrence, died after being exposed to the toxic fumes while working at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Burlington. According to a press release put out by the Burlington Fire Department, a preliminary investigation in conjunction with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicates that fumes were created when another employee used two substances, Super 8 and Scale Kleen, to clean the floor.
The incident, which occurred on Thursday, Nov. 7, saw 13 other people checked into the hospital: 12 into the Lahey Hospital and another checked into a Lowell-area hospital. Their symptoms included difficulty breathing and burning in the eyes.
It is scenarios like this that the Toxics Uses Reduction Institute(TURI) at UMass Lowell seeks to prevent by helping companies and communities in Massachusetts find alternative and safer chemicals and cleaning processes.
TURI is one of three groups founded as a result of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) of 1989. TURI, and its sister organizations the office of Technical Assistance (OTA) and technology and part of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), work to help companies, communities and organizations to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in Massachusetts, said Felice Kincannon, the information and outreach program manager at TURI.
“We are the model in the world how to do toxics use reduction,” said Alicia McCarthy, a TURI cleaning laboratory specialist.
TURI is the first lab that works to help companies and communities find and understand alternative chemicals. Others, like the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTap) at the University of Minnesota, which is currently partnered with TURI, are working to emulate the program. A UMass Alumni who worked with TURI is even helping a company do something similar in Korea.
“The work we do with communities is varied. We have an annual grant program where both business and community,” said Kincannon. She pointed to the recent work TURI had done with the Lawrence Fire Department to help all 103 auto shops in Lawrence understand, manage the chemicals, and reduce the chemicals in the shop.
In the last few years, TURI has researched artificial turfs and the flame retardants used in foam pits at gymnastics gyms. The group has also worked with a brewery, aerospace companies and dry cleaners to help find safer chemicals to those traditionally used.
All of these services are free to Massachusetts companies and communities, said McCarthy. The services are paid for in part by a fee placed on companies that use regulated toxic chemicals in Massachusetts
“No matter where you go, with cleaning, there might be a company in another state that could be using the same type of oils or greases or process. We don’t have to physical test, but they can use that information,” said McCarty, explaining that all lab reports and articles written by researches and students about the work happening at TURI are posted to their database, Cleanersolutions.org.
McCarthy credits the 25–30 undergraduate and graduate students with helping TURI run. The institute hires students from all majors, including chemical engineering, public health and business. McCarthy says they will take on any student who wants to learn more and they try to work with the projects they are given to help students find a project related to their interests
Nicole Kebler, a public health graduate student, works to remove Trichloroethylene (TCE) from products and worked with TURI last year for an award-winning project looking at cleaning reusable grocery bags. Spencer Gifford, a public health graduate student, is helping TURI finding safer clearers to use in breweries. Duc Vu, a freshman chemistry student, works primarily on janitorial testing of products applying for one of three certifications.
On Friday, Nov. 8, all three students worked in house on performance tests for dryer sheets, being reviewed for one of three certifications: green seal, eco-logo, and safer choice. Part of the test included looking at the affordability of the product, the safety of the product, and the efficiency of the product.
Rismsha Raneru, a senior majoring in public health, was researching what cleaners worked best for cleaning resin from 3D printing. Currently being used is isopropyl alcohol.
McCarthy said that they just wanted to make sure isopropyl alcohol is the safest option and to find affordable substitutes.
“The chemical world is not static. It keeps changing all the time. It’s a challenge to keep up with all the chemicals,” said Kincannon on why there is no one solution to these issues and how even know they are still learning more and more about chemicals.