UCLA chosen by EPA for toxic release data analysis project

By Chandini Soni
Originally posted in the Daily Bruin

The year-long project will be one of several that environmental studies students can choose from to fulfill their practicum in environmental science. All students in the major must select a concentration in one of eight environmental science areas.

The students will be divided into teams based on their selected project in the fall.

The project, called the Toxics Release Inventory University Challenge, will examine toxins in the Greater Los Angeles area, said Magali Delmas, a professor of management and the lead faculty member on the project.

Using data provided by the EPA, the team at UCLA will develop maps documenting the use of resources in Los Angeles, will rate local manufacturing companies and will examine the concentration of toxic waste that can cause birth defects and diseases such as cancer, Delmas said.

The database contains over 25 years of information on the disposal and other releases of more than 650 toxic chemicals from more than 20,000 U.S. industrial facilities.

Delmas said she hopes participating in the project will teach students more about toxins and put pressure on businesses in Los Angeles to reduce their waste.

“Many of these facilities are located in the middle of (Los Angeles) where many people live,” Delmas said, “We can compare the exposure and impact on health with another facility that is in the middle of nowhere.”

The project is being hosted by the Toxics Release Inventory, which was established in 1986. It aims to increase the public’s access to information about chemicals at individual facilities, their uses and releases into the environment.

Nathan Tsang, a fourth-year environmental science student who will be doing his capstone project this year said he plans to apply for the program.

“I’m interested in the project because it has to do with what I’m interested in career wise and I think it’s important that businesses become socially responsible,” Tsang said.

Through the EPA’s partnership with universities, it hopes to develop practical and replicable projects focused on pollution prevention, sustainability, community engagement and technology for improving the presentation and understanding of the data, according to a press release.

The practicum in environmental sciences starts in the fall and continues for the entire school year. By the middle of fall quarter, students are divided into smaller groups of about six to eight based on their projects. Throughout the rest of the year, the students work with their group to design and execute their plans.

“The goal (of the practicum) is to provide students with experience going through all of the phases of environmental research, reporting and communications,” said Travis Longcore, an associate adjunct professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and coordinator of the practicum in environmental sciences.

“It gives a sense of realism to the way work is in this field,” Longcore said.

Longcore said that although students generally have a variety of interests, he thinks they will be interested in participating in the toxics release project because many of them are interested in pursuing business sustainability as a career.

Participating in the Toxics Release Inventory University Challenge will also present students with the opportunity to work on environmental issues with a government agency, Longcore said.

Although Delmas acknowledged the difficulty in speculating the outcomes of the project now, she said the team could engage the business community to reduce the amount of released toxic waste.

Delmas said she hopes the project will continue in the following years.