EPA Recognizes Eight Massachusetts Organizations and Citizens
BOSTON, Mass. — The Environmental Protection Agency recognized eight individuals and organizations for their work to protect New England's environment.
They were among 24 recipients across New England honored by EPA's New England office at the 2020 Environmental Merit Awards virtual ceremony.
EPA New England's annual Environmental Merit Awards are given to community leaders, scientists, government officials, business leaders, schools, and students who represent different approaches, but a common commitment to environmental protection.
"Initiatives led by individuals and groups like this years' awardees have driven progress toward clean water and clean air, built community support for revitalization investments, sparked environmental innovation, reduced waste, and protected the public from exposure to harmful substances," EPA New England Administrator Dennis Deziel said. "EPA is always proud to recognize the honorees' dedication, commitment to partnerships, and passion for success that has led to measurable change."
Deziel noted that this year's award celebration – an online video presentation - by necessity differed from past years, but reaffirmed the awards ceremony is more important than ever.
Among those recognized in Massachusetts, three – Barbara Cianfarini of Pittsfield, Patrick J. Sullivan of Springfield and Margaret VanDeusen of Boston - were given lifetime achievement awards for a career or life devoted to protecting the New England environment.
"I am pleased to join EPA Region 1 as they honor municipal officials, environmental activists, state transportation planners and celebrate their amazing work to protect our environment and the public health," Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) said. "I celebrate their success and achievements as they safeguard our natural resources and ensure the health of communities across the Commonwealth."
The 2020 Merit Award Winners from Massachusetts were:
Barbara Cianfarini of Pittsfield
Barbara Cianfarini of Citizens for PCB Removal was a voice for the health of her Pittsfield neighbors and of the Housatonic River. Cianfarini's work contributed to the comprehensive PCB cleanup in Pittsfield. Her decades of neighborhood advocacy responded to a health threat close to home.
From 1932 to 1977, General Electric in Pittsfield used PCBs in its operations. By the mid-1990s, it was clear PCB contamination encompassed the GE facility and river, as well as dozens of homes that had used GE fill in foundations or backyards.
Cianfarini and others established the Citizens for PCB Removal in the late 1990s to stimulate cleanup efforts by EPA and the state. GE completed more than 200 residential cleanups and was required by the federal government to do nearly 30 other cleanups of PCBs throughout Pittsfield and in the most highly contaminated stretch of the Housatonic River.
She continued to prod EPA for 20 years. Her well-informed advocacy came with reminders that the cleanups are important for current residents and future generations. In recent years, her focus on the one remaining segment of the Housatonic River to be cleaned was steady, scientific and strong. Cianfarini demanded answers and solutions.
For many years, she continued her advocacy while struggling with her own health. In November 2019, she passed away, but her consistent voice, methodical preparation, and core values of respect and kindness live on.
Patrick J. Sullivan of Springfield
Patrick J. Sullivan, executive director of the Springfield Department of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management was nominated by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, who described Patrick's steadfast work to build an environmentally friendly community. In 33 years with the city, Sullivan spearheaded over $80 million in park construction projects. He helped improve lakes and ponds and rebuilt dam infrastructure.
In 2006, the city added all 5.4 million square feet of school and municipal buildings to his management responsibilities. Sullivan has been instrumental in overseeing over $500 million in school renovations. He also has been the mayor's point person for initiating "Going Green" in the city. He has established a technical environmental team for parks and buildings, overseen the introduction of a green housekeeping and recycling program, introduced less toxic cleaning, maintenance and curriculum products, established 20 organic school gardens, and launched an integrated pest management system in city buildings.
Over the past five years, Patrick has reduced hazardous substances found in pesticides and conventional fertilizers in all 3,000 acres of city land. He established a program to evaluate the effectiveness of organic land management, a program that has reduced runoff of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
Patrick now is developing plans to educate the public on the impacts of synthetic fertilizers. Communities throughout New England are in contact with Springfield to replicate these organic fertilizing programs. Patrick also has worked to clean Springfield's water bodies. A city management plan will reduce pollutant loads in water bodies, reopening them for recreational use, and restoring native habitats. Sullivan's efforts have led to a 30 percent drop in energy use in city buildings since 2007. He has ensured the success of Springfield's "Going Green" programs through diligence and his commitment to environmental initiatives.
Margaret VanDeusen of Boston
Margaret VanDeusen's career was dedicated to improving our environment. VanDeusen, deputy director and general counsel for the Charles River Watershed Association for nearly 20 years, retired last year. During her tenure, VanDeusen helped build the association into a strong environmental advocacy organization. Before that, was an assistant attorney general in the Environmental Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's office. She made a career of fighting for environmental protection and restoration, and the state's waterways are healthier for her efforts.
At the AG's office, VanDeusen worked with a team to take on polluters and restore degraded sites. At the watershed association, she fought for the public's right to access public trust lands, standing up to large, well-funded institutions to prevent privatization and ensure public access. At Daly Field, for instance, she led the fight for one of the last remaining undeveloped spaces along the Charles River Lower Basin. The site became a sports complex for Simmons University, and is far more accessible to the public Margaret also fought for strong state environmental laws and policies. She used her experience as a litigator to bring an appeal when the Ipswich River was running dry. After the 2016 drought, issues raised by VanDeusen and others led the state to update its drought management plan. In 2011, she fought for the cleanup and restoration of the former Medfield State Hospital site, including environmental restoration and access improvements to the site, which is now parkland. Her knowledge of law and her diligence made her a formidable foe.
Mayor Daniel Rivera of Lawrence
Mayor Daniel Rivera's leadership and vision has led to environmental protection improvements, community revitalization and economic redevelopment in Lawrence. A lifetime resident raised in public housing, Rivera understands the concerns of citizens. He dedicates his time to addressing those needs, including a legacy of hazardous materials and contamination.
Upon taking office, Rivera set his sights on environmental issues and brownfields-related projects, built a team to address these issues and forged a partnership with EPA. Some of the improvements Rivera realized include: bringing in millions of dollars for Brownfields and response activities in the Arlington Street neighborhood; using EPA Brownfield funds to help turn 1.4 miles of the Manchester-Lawrence Railway into a walking/cycling trail; developing a water strategy for the river; supporting outreach events on litter and recycling; offering a "Water Bootcamp" where students learn about the water cycle and potential career opportunities; developing an urban park from a former industrial property; and securing 2,000 trees to be planted in residents' yards to mitigate the city's heat island effect during summer.
Magdalena Ayed of East Boston
Magdalena Ayed, founder and executive director for The Harborkeepers, helped build an equitable and sustainable coastal community in East Boston. Her organization's mission is to create a community prepared for potential impacts of major flooding or storms. East Boston, with its unique geography, cultural diversity and long relationship to maritime history, is particularly vulnerable to environmental and climate-related impacts. A clear and dire need for climate resiliency and education here led Ayed to found Harborkeepers in 2016. Harborkeepers has provided free education to youth and adults about coastal issues and the impact of climate change. Over the last four years, under Ayed's leadership, Harborkeepers has worked with several local schools, housing developments and community groups to address the need for building resiliency in the community. Recognizing the impact of marine trash pollution around East Boston, Harborkeepers has held volunteer shoreline clean ups since its founding. By the end of 2018, it had removed over 2,555 pounds of trash from the coastline. Over four years, Ayed has demonstrated leadership, passion and innovation.
Wayne Chouinard of Arlington
Wayne Chouinard's environmental leadership as Arlington town engineer has provided a cleaner environment for citizens. During the past two years, Chouinard has been the primary town supervisor involved in a collaborative effort in the Mystic River Watershed to explore how communities can reduce nutrient pollution in stormwater discharges. EPA led a pilot project to work with Arlington and Winchester to better manage stormwater, specifically related to the reduction of phosphorus in discharges. Through the process, Chouinard was dedicated to installing small-scale innovative stormwater controls to reduce phosphorus in discharges. His work resulted in a standard detail for an innovative infiltration trench retrofit. As a result, nine infiltration trenches installed in 2019 led to an annual reduction of nearly a pound of phosphorus and 1,296 gallons of runoff. Chouinard has transitioned the town from demonstrating updated infrastructure to putting in place stormwater innovations that are more effective and economical. He has continued to design and install small scale green infrastructure in Arlington. His efforts helped spark a second round of municipal and agency collaboration in the watershed with four more communities, which are likely to result in green infrastructure throughout the watershed and a cleaner Mystic River.
Michele Paul of New Bedford
Michele Paul is the director of the city's Office of Environmental Stewardship. New Bedford is home to one of the largest Superfund sites in the region. The city also has dozens of Brownfields. In collaboration with the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Team, she is leading planning and construction of the Riverwalk along the Acushnet River. To limit consumption of contaminated seafood, Paul has employed bilingual residents to educate residents. She Michele has reinvigorated the city's Brownfields program, managing more than $1.6 million in EPA funding. More recent, Paul took on leadership for the City's Brownfields Job Training Grant – New Bedford being the only successful EPA Job Training applicant in the region in 2019. Paul has led successful efforts to evaluate climate vulnerabilities, creating a plan that has been a model for other communities.
Mass. Department of Transportation, Highway Division and Environmental Services, Boston
The Massachusetts Rivers & Roads Training Program, launched by the Mass. Department of Transportation, in 2018, is aimed at creating more resilient infrastructure and protecting rivers. The program, part of DOT's Fluvial Geomorphology Program, has brought about a culture change in this agency. Those who attend the training learn how to reduce future damage through innovative design practices at locations of river-road conflicts. The trainings were modeled after a similar program in Vermont, and the course, attended by more than 300 people, has been replicated in all six Massachusetts highway districts and tailored to local issues. The courses have also been adapted for towns and cities. The program promotes flood resiliency planning that saves money, protects the public and reduces flooding and erosion. It also protects rivers and water quality while improving river habitat. The program has helped reinforce the proper sizing of bridges and culverts. It has brought together trainees from many sectors to change the way business is done at DOT and across the state's transportation sector.
In addition to these winners, Kathy Best of Dorchester was presented with the Children's Environmental Health Award. Best, a lifelong resident of Dorchester, is committed to bringing services to underserved communities, particularly those most vulnerable to health disparities and environmental impacts. Best has more than 20 years of service in the federal government with the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Her most recent appointment was as New England project officer and maternal and child health consultant at HHS. There, Best managed an $800 million block grant focused on the health and well-being of mothers, children and families. She recently was appointed chief performance and strategy officer at the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center. In addition, Best volunteers with an advocacy group, Blacks in Government, and serves as the lead for the national Future Leaders in America's Government program, which exposes youth to civil service careers. Under Best's leadership, more than 1,000 underserved youth have been exposed to careers in government. Best is recognized for her commitment to children and youth across New England.
And Ronald Poltak of New Hampshire, was given the Ira Leighton "In Service to States" annual award for environmental achievement that has had an outsized impact in the state, the region, and nationally. The award recognized Poltak for his work at the helm of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission for 37 years until his retirement in 2017.
EPA New England each year recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who are distinguished by their work to protect or improve the region's environment. The merit awards, given since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown ingenuity and commitment. The Environmental Merit Awards, given for work or actions done in the prior year, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals.