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Release Date: 09/27/1996
Contact Information: Alice Kaufman, EPA-New England, (617)918-1064

BOSTON -- More than 200 environmental leaders from throughout New England are gathering today and tomorrow at the University of Hartford for a conference on urban environmental issues sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, ONE CHANE, Inc. and the National Association of Minority Contractors.

"Redefining Our Urban Environment" provides an opportunity for grassroots organizers, health professionals, state and local governments, businessmen and women, and others from the six New England states to address common urban environmental issues from a variety of approaches. On Specific workshops and topics of discussion include: urban environmental health; vacant lots and urban gardens; urban economic development; and urban waterways.

"This conference offers us a great opportunity to share ideas, compare notes and work together to chart a course for environmental protection in New England's cities and towns for the next century," said John P. DeVillars, administrator of the EPA's New England office. "Urban issues are as pressing, if not more so, than those facing rural and suburban areas, especially when they're combined with other socio-economic pressures. Through partnerships with such fine community based organizations as ONE CHANE here in Hartford, we can begin to reverse the tide of environmental injustice that threatens the public health and safety of our region's urban residents."

"This absolutely will be the most exciting environmental conference anyone has ever seen," said Larry Charles, executive director of ONE CHANE, Inc. "Our conference participants will be the most well informed team in the country; they will be armed with the factual information they need to protect the health of their children and to participate in intelligent discussions about this important subject."

"The Connecticut DEP is pleased to participate in this conference and is excited to be announcing one of the newest elements of its 'Fight Against Illegal Dumping' program," said DEP Commissioner Sidney J. Holbrook. "After cleaning up over 400 sites which had been used as illegal dumping areas, the DEP will be developing Pocket Parks at select sites. This second phase in the program will work to encourage ownership of the sites within the community with a goal of returning these sites to productive use for area residents."

Other organizations attending and helping with the event include: Alternatives for Community and Environment, Boston City Hospital, Boston University School of Public Health, Bowdoin Street Neighborhood Health Center, the Citizen Research Education Network, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the Environmental Diversity Forum, Hartford Health Department, High Noon, JSI Center for Environmental Health Studies, Tufts University School of Medicine, University of Hartford and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Redefining Our Urban Environment" builds on work EPA's New England office has spearheaded under its Urban Environmental Initiative, which was formed two years ago to address environmental degradation in the region's cities and towns.

EPA is committed to partnering with community leaders and others to identify and address critical urban environmental issues in targeted cities. The EPA's goal is to involve communities and people of color more substantially in the environmental decision-making process and to create a sustainable environmental assessment and management capacity at a local level.

To make the this happen on the ground, EPA has hired full-time urban program managers to work in Boston, Providence and Hartford. Some of the initiative's highlights from the past year are:

    • Provided $2.3 million in grants and funding to organizations throughout New England to work on urban related issues ranging from lead paint in older housing to returning abandoned, contaminated properties to productive use. Later this fall, EPA will announce a series of grants in excess of $2 million to fund similar projects.
    • EPA staff, City Year and others educated some 3,500 people regarding an asthma home checkup in Boston/Roxbury, where asthma rates are five times higher than the state average.
    • Neighborhoods Against Urban Pollution, a consortium of Boston-based environmental groups, grew out of a community driven/agency-sponsored year long, collaborative task force working on hazardous waste issues in urban environmental areas.
    • The EPA is completing a wetlands map and report to support the Providence Plan and its effort to develop a greenway and bike path in Providence.
    • In response to the concerns of Direct Action for Rights and Equality, the EPA has been working with the city of Providence and other community organizations to address the issues of vacant lots in Providence. Hundreds of vacant lots have been cleaned up by the City Clean Initiative.
    • With EPA funding, environmental community organizers in Boston, Hartford and Providence are providing environmental leadership, training, education to targeted cities