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MIT Joins in Charles Cleanup

By Erik Snowberg

MIT, along with several other area universities and businesses, is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the Charles River by 2005.

The goal of the Clean Charles 2005 Coalition is to make the river fit for swimming, fishing and boating by Earth Day 2005. The EPA began its efforts towards a cleaner Charles in 1995.

John P. DeVillars, the New England administrator for the EPA, said, “When we set out in 1995 to make the Charles fishable and swimmable by 2005, frankly there were a lot of doubting Thomases.”

MIT, other institutions join effort

According to Paul Parravano, co-director of the President’s Office of Government and Community Relations, MIT has been involved with the Charles River Watershed Association “for several years.”

“The EPA has recently become interested in getting involved with colleges and universities. This particular project is important to the EPA and its regional administrator,” Parravano said.

According to Parravano, MIT was invited to a meeting in January by the EPA. This meeting was the beginning of the Clean Charles 2005 Coalition. Harvard University, Polaroid and Genzyme, all members of the Coalition, were also present.

The Coalition plans to recruit 100 businesses and institutions over the next 18 months. They hope to organize their efforts such that each member is responsible for a segment of the river and its banks.

William Walsh-Rogalski, who is in charge of the river cleanup for the EPA, said that private institutions’ eagerness to be involved in the cleanup project is a natural “ownership response.”

Parravano said that MIT’s involvement in the cleanup made sense because MIT owns so much property along the Charles River.

MIT will provide the cleanup effort with a boat that will make regular cleanup patrols to pick up floating rubbish. Student crews from MIT, Boston University, Northeastern and Harvard will staff the boat.

MIT will also subsidize a graduate student to work on the campaign. In addition, MIT will sponsor and host a competition which will encourage engineers and other experts to create solutions for problems on the river.

MIT was given an extensive audit last year by the EPA. Parravano said the point of this audit was to let MIT know in which areas it could improve its compliance with environmental regulations. The EPA could also fine MIT for any violations they found. The results of the audit are not yet available.

According to a faculty memorandum by Professor J. David Lister, Chair of the Institute Council on Environmental Health and Safety, the penalty for non-compliance with EPA regulations could be substantial. The EPA can fine up to $25,000 per violation per day. The memorandum also said that in the future environmental compliance may play a role in obtaining government grants for research.

EPA’s Efforts Paying Off

DeVillars announced at a press conference earlier this year that the Charles River’s water quality had improved to a B- rating this year. The river was given a C last year, and a D in 1995 when the grading began.

The river was clean enough for boating 83 percent of the time and safe enough for swimming 51 percent of the time last year. This is an increase from 70 percent and 34 percent respectively the year before.

DeVillars cited a reduction in combined sewer overflow pipes and illegal sewage dumping as reasons for the increase in water quality over the past four years.