Lowell Sun: Stimulus saves UML’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute

LOWELL — The Toxics Use Reduction Institute, a state-mandated industry training program, escaped a shutdown after the state decided to use federal stimulus money to resurrect its budget.

That means businesses across the state that use toxins will have access to training, and some community groups will receive assistance money toward their efforts to create a healthier environment, at least for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan announced yesterday that the state has designated $1.3 million in federal recovery-act funds to keep TURI open. TURI, located on the UMass Lowell campus, is one of the key state agencies established under Massachusetts’ Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) of 1989 to help reduce the use of toxins in the state.

The state budget always included a line item for the agency until this summer, when that was suddenly lumped into UMass Lowell’s budget. While the university did not have an obligation to fund the state program, it committed $400,000 toward it to keep it running while taking in four TURI employees for positions at the School of Health and Environment, said Karen Angelo, the organization’s outreach coordinator.

Three additional workers were laid off while TURI sought supplemental funding from the state to avoid closing in January.

Thanks to the federal stimulus money, TURI will remain open at least through June 30, and those laid off will return to work, Angelo said yesterday.

“Governor Patrick and the Legislature stepped up to the plate to ensure that TURI can continue to help reduce the use of toxics in the Commonwealth,” Meehan said in a press release. “The one-time federal funding will allow UMass Lowell to cover the costs of the institute this year, without disinvesting in our core mission — providing high-quality, affordable, higher education.”

The $1.3 million will cover the $400,000 the university initially put upfront. The budget is down from last year’s $1.6 million, and the downsizing of the work force and the $30,000 reduction in community grants make up the difference, Angelo said.

The TURA program generates more than $3 million annually in fees collected from companies for using more than certain amounts of particular chemicals identified by the state.

“The more we learn about the impact of hazardous substances on public health, the more we need the Toxics Use Reduction Institute, and I will be working to ensure its important work can continue,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, in a press release.

Eldridge was among the legislators who pushed for separate state funding for TURI.

“We are committed to working with the business and environmental communities, as well as legislators, to evaluate the services the Institute provides and come up with a workable plan for funding it beyond this fiscal year,” TURI Director Michael Ellenbecker said in the press release.

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