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EPA and Lawrence Mayor Announce Project to Reduce Pollution from Auto Body Shops

Release Date: 01/15/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan today announced an initiative to train owners and employees of the city's 100-plus auto body repair shops so they can better protect the environment and health of workers.

The Auto Body Shop Training Program, funded by a $70,000 grant from EPA, will be conducted in Spanish, as well as English, so that workers at auto body shops can better understand how and where to get required environmental permits and how to properly use equipment and materials so pollution impacts can be minimized.

Auto body shops work with numerous chemicals, including paints, solvents and rust removing agents. Regulations require equipment that minimizes the amount of fumes and chemicals released into the air and water, and the exposure of workers to these chemicals.

The grant is being given to the JSI Center for Environmental Health Studies, a Boston-based organization, which is implementing the training program and developing training materials. The project will include the hiring of a part-time bilingual employee from Lawrence to conduct workshops and individually visit body shops. The first workshop will be held in early March.

"With these EPA funds, Lawrence will be able to target one of the clearest and most obvious sources of air pollution in the city," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office, who announced the project today at the Gomez Auto Body Shop at 3034 Winter St. "Auto body shops owners who understand the law and how to follow it, will be in a better position to take the steps necessary to protect the health of children and workers vulnerable to the effects of pollution."

The project has received strong support from a health task force formed by Mayor Sullivan.

"This all ties into the health initiative that we've been working on for the last year," Mayor Sullivan said today. "The auto body shop employees we thought were exposed to health hazards and anything we can do as a city to help employees we're happy to do."

The project stems from an EPA study two years ago in which the city's 130 auto body shops were identified as possible contributors to the city's poor air quality and high asthma rates. (Lawrence has the highest pediatric asthma rate in Massachusetts.)

EPA, working with the environmental committee of the Community Health Network Area and Casa de Salud, found many of the auto body shops were not in compliance with environmental and public health laws. The Community Health Network Area is made up of health professionals in Merrimack Valley and Casa de Salud is made up of four local non-profit groups, including JSI.

A workshop to introduce the program will be held in early March at Lawrence Heritage State Park. Speakers will include Mayor Sullivan and Spanish-speaking experts on auto body shops from the community, who will address: permits and regulations; fire codes; best management practices and protective equipment; business practices; loan programs; and health effects of worker exposure.

"We are making rapid progress in developing the program because we have had enthusiastic support from the fire department, inspectional services and the small Business Center," said Gretchen Latowsky, JSI project director. "We have also been very fortunate to have several auto body shop owners volunteer time to help us understand the financial, education and cultural issues that prevent them from being in compliance with the law."