The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) often is known for regulations that can slow down or even stop commercial development, becoming a burr in the side of businesses expansion.
It’s quite the opposite this time, where the EPA is spurring development after being credited this week with providing the impetus for a downtown revitalization in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The EPA will provide a $200,000 grant to the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC) to fix the asbestos contamination in the older building that will serve as the centerpiece to the latest project.
Without it, the project would have stopped.
“To make these buildings work, we need to address these environmental concerns, and they are costly,” WDBC President Craig Blais said. “These are the costs that hamper the private sector from coming in. These dollars [from the EPA] will play a critical role.”
The EPA Enforces Asbestos Regulations
Asbestos contamination is a problem throughout America today. Schools, businesses and homeowners have struggled with the high cost of the necessary cleanup that is required now under federal and state regulations.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was used extensively through much of the 20th century for its ability to insulate, fireproof and strengthen in a myriad of uses. Its use peaked in the 70s before everyone realized how toxic it could be.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to a variety of health issues, including mesothelioma, the rare but aggressive cancer. An estimated 10,000 people die each year in the United States from asbestos-related problems.
Although the use of asbestos has been dramatically reduced, it remains throughout structures that were constructed before 1980.
One of the EPA’s most important roles today involves enforcing regulations regarding contaminants like asbestos. It has considerable strength to force compliance.
Yet it also has the power — and uses it — to help transform contaminated sites like the one in Worcester into useful ones.
Grant Will Help Revitalize Theater District
The building was purchased by the WBDC from The New York Times Co., parent of the still-operating Telegram & Gazette, which is moving down the block.
The building, though, is virtually unusable because of the inks, solvents and other chemicals that were part of the printing operation. Asbestos also was throughout the building, requiring a complete and costly overhaul.
The WBDC wants to use the four-story structure to help revive the 35-acre area surrounding the Hanover Theatre for Performing Arts, creating a bustling theater district for downtown.
The EPA grant will allow it to happen. It is part of a $69 million project this year by the EPA to help communities clean and redevelop contaminated properties known as brownfields.
The project is aimed at abandoned industrial and commercial properties that otherwise would be empty and deteriorating, which is what has become all too common because of asbestos.
According to the EPA, there are an estimated 450,000 abandoned and contaminated waste sites in America today. Many of them include toxic asbestos products, which becomes more dangerous as they age and deteriorate.