Boston, Mass. -- Three organizations and individuals in Maine were honored today at the 2013 Environmental Merit Awards ceremony of the US Environmental Protection Agency. They were among 28 recipients across New England recognized for their significant contributions to environmental awareness and problem-solving.
The merit awards allow EPA to recognize individuals and groups whose work has protected or improved the region’s environment in distinct ways. Given out by EPA annually since 1970, the merit awards honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts.
“The people, communities and businesses being recognized today are leaders in helping create a cleaner environment and healthier communities across New England,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA New England.
The Environmental Merit Awards, which are given to people who have already taken action, 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. The Environmental Merit Award Winners from Maine listed here by category are:
Environmental, Community, Academia, & Non-profit Organizations Environmental Merit Award
Cary Medical Center Safe Sharps Disposal Program
In 2010 a medical technologist at Cary Medical Center saw piles of sharps – or needles – collected in the apartment of an elderly woman with a diabetic cat. Motivated to research the issue of sharps disposal, Lisa Prescott approached colleagues and hospital administration with ideas on community education and disposal options. This led to the Cary Committee for Community Needle Collection and ultimately a successful sharps disposal program. Less than three years later, Aroostook County, which has one of Maine’s highest levels of diabetes, has a working disposal system to protect citizens from hazards associated with used medical sharps.
The Cary Medical Center Safe Sharps Disposal Program began in 2011. A drop-off sharps disposal kiosk was set up in the Caribou police station. A second kiosk was added in Presque Isle soon after and in 2012, with funding from the state, kiosks were installed into four other local police stations. State law allows medical sharps in hard plastic containers in household trash, but the Cary program allows for a separate disposal system. This educates the public on the dangers of sharps and protects solid waste personnel. It also encourages residents to dispose of sharps if they worry about safety issues in regular disposal. A year after the first kiosk in Caribou and only five months after the Presque Isle kiosk, more than two tons of sharps had been collected at just those two sites. This number is expected to grow exponentially.
Gulf of Maine Institute
The Gulf of Maine Institute has been developing citizen stewards of the environment for more than a decade. The institute’s mission is “to touch, move and inspire young people, in partnership with adults, to lead in stewardship of the Gulf of Maine and its watershed.” The institute was founded in response to pollution, loss of resources and overall lack of knowledge of the watershed. Over the years, the Gulf of Maine Institute has led teams of teenagers with adult mentors in projects related to their immediate watershed. The teams meet annually to work together on themes such as climate change and water quality, as well as to share ideas, challenges and successes.
The teams help other environmental organizations like Coastal Zone Management, Mass Audubon or others by doing quantitative environmental science, such as water quality sampling and reporting on invasive species in the watershed. Equally important, the Gulf of Maine Institute provides its students and alumni with the scientific research and problem-solving tools to advance the knowledge of and advocacy for environmental issues throughout the Gulf of Maine watershed.
Kevin Mallory, transportation director of the Portland Public Schools, has made the Portland Public Schools bus fleet greener. At the same time he has raised awareness in the community about the benefits of reducing diesel exhaust emissions. When first alerted to the health concern of diesel exhaust, Mallory launched a campaign to reduce exposure to harmful school bus diesel emissions. The Portland district was the first school district in the state to establish and enforce a no-idling policy for school buses. In 2004, it was one of the first schools in the nation to apply to EPA’s Clean School Bus USA grant to retrofit 21 school buses with pollution control equipment. It expanded the school bus initiative to private vehicles around school buildings by posting Clean Air Zone signs and worked with city leaders to designate the city as a “Clean Air Zone,” extending reduced idling policies beyond schools.
In 2006, the Portland school district began operating three compressed natural gas school buses and by 2012, it had received funding to bring the fleet to 14 natural gas school buses, the largest such school bus fleet in New England. Portland Public Schools has demonstrated exemplary stewardship for the environment and protecting public health and provides a strong model of success for other communities.
More information on EPA New England Environmental Merit Awards (http://www.epa.gov/region1/ra/ema/index.html)