KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 30, 2001 -- When a Rhode Island-based fish processing company ran afoul of state pollution laws controlling wastewater discharges in the late 1990s, it also caused major disagreements between the company and local officials. Unable to resolve their differences, the company prepared to move out of state while the R.I. Economic Development Corporation (EDC) actively tried to resolve the situation for all parties involved.
In a last-ditch effort, University of Rhode Island research professor Eugene Park, co-director of the URI Center for Pollution Prevention, visited the company to see if he could help. Working in cooperation with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Park evaluated a variety of technologies to reduce the contaminants in the companys wastewater and facilitated an agreement between the fish processor and the town.
"Professor Park did a great job of solving that problem and turning a bad situation into one where everyone came out a winner," said James Saletnik, assistant director of business development for EDC. "This pollution prevention program has really been a great help to local industry."
The auto body industry is being targeted next for special pollution prevention assistance from DEM in the coming months. The many small auto body shops in the state must deal with a large number of complex environmental regulations, including those related to worker health. So, with assistance from Park, DEM is devising a system designed to encourage auto body shop owners to self-certify their compliance.
"Were developing an industry guidance manual that has a checklist that shop owners can review to determine whether or not they comply with environmental, health and safety regulations," explained Park. "This is a new approach that were taking as a first step to encouraging them to comply."
Park and DEM have been helping Rhode Island businesses reduce or prevent pollution for the last 14 years and have served as free engineering consultants to more than 300 companies to date. They provide technical assistance relating to water discharges, hazardous wastes, solid wastes, air emissions and other pollutants, and theyve become expert at resolving pollution problems in such industries as metal finishing, textiles, seafood processing and auto body repair.
"For companies that are having difficulty with controlling their pollution, were here to help them," said Park, a resident of Warwick. "Industry feels comfortable working with us, and the regulators are referring companies to us. So weve been able to build bridges between industry and regulators."
In the early days of the partnership, companies were leery of telling DEM about their pollution problems, thinking that the state would turn around and fine the companies for noncompliance with pollution regulations. But now companies understand that the technical expertise they can receive from URI researchers can not only resolve their pollution problems but do so in a cost effective, efficient way.
"We have the most technically competent pollution prevention program in New England because of our arrangement with URI," said Richard Enander, DEMs pollution prevention program manager. "Pollution prevention is a very interdisciplinary field, and URI is a great resource. No other academic institution in the state has the depth and breadth of facilities that we can rely on."
The Center for Pollution Prevention is based at URIs Department of Chemical Engineering, but faculty members from throughout the university get involved, depending on the problems being addressed. For example, scientists from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition have assisted with reducing pollution in the seafood processing industry, while textiles companies have been assisted by faculty from the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design. The center also provides URI students with opportunities for hands-on experience.
"Businesses arent required to participate in our programs. Everything we do is voluntary," Park concluded. "Were just here to help the environment and help the economy."
For Information: Eugene Park 874-2655, Todd McLeish 874-7892