Tracking and treating toxic waste in urban neighborhoods

Abandoned factories and contaminated soil can stall efforts to revive blighted urban neighborhoods. That's because city officials, developers and nearby residents often share common concerns: Is it safe to rebuild here? Will workers and residents become ill from toxic materials that escape into the air and water supplies?

A new research center, led by engineers and scientists at The Johns Hopkins University, plans to address these fears by creating new tools to gauge risks associated with hazardous waste sites and by developing new ways to clean up harmful pollutants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a five-year $5.2 million grant to launch this new Center for Hazardous Substances in Urban Environments, based at Johns Hopkins. The funds will support research and allow center participants to provide technical help to community groups, state, municipal and local environmental regulators and industry representatives in the Northeast. Researchers from four other institutions the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, the University of Connecticut and the New Jersey Institute of Technology will participate in the new center and share in the EPA grant.

"Before we applied for this grant, we asked regional EPA officials about the most serious challenges they faced," said Ed Bouwer, a Johns Hopkins professor of geography and environmental engineering who serves as the center's director. "One of the top issues they mentioned was urban livability making sure that people in cities have air, water and soil that will not expose them to toxic substances. The other big issue was brownfields abandoned lots and buildings that may contain hazardous materials. If you can redevelop these properties, you can create jobs and improve the tax base. So the cities and states have an economic incentive to promote new construction on the brownfields if the environmental concerns can be addressed."

That's where the new center comes in

Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University

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