Environmental Protection Agency awards grant to UC Berkeley program for pollution prevention

Food Packaging
Rlsheehan/Creative Commons
The Greener Solutions program at UC Berkeley was awarded a $194,382 grant by the Environmental Protection Agency to research substitutes for potentially dangerous synthetic chemicals found in consumer and commercial products that are known to have harmful health effect. (Photo by Rlsheehan under CC BY 2.0)

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UC Berkeley’s Greener Solutions program was awarded funding from the Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 23 to research alternatives to potentially dangerous chemicals used in the carpet and food packaging industries.

The $194,832 grant is one of 42 distributed across the United States by the EPA, which gave out a total of $9.3 million in funding to combat pollution on the 30th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act. The Greener Solutions program will use the funding to investigate alternatives to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which are synthetic chemicals found in consumer and commercial products that are known to have adverse health effects, according to a UC Berkeley College of Chemistry press release.

“(The grant) enlists a network of interested parties both at the university, its students and in the regulated business community,” said John Busterud, EPA regional administrator for Region 9. “This is a team effort to reduce pollution. It’s not us or them: We’re all working together.”

According to Tom McKeag, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, the Greener Solutions program is a 17-week course at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, in which teams of graduates and upper division undergraduates partner with companies and nonprofit organizations to identify safe, innovative solutions to chemical processes.

In the past eight years, the Greener Solutions program has partnered with more than a dozen organizations, including Nike, Method, Patagonia, Autodesk, Beautycounter and Costco, McKeag added.

“There is a patchwork quilt of regulations; there is no one unifying chemical regulation program,” McKeag said. “Citizens, for instance, think that they’re very well-protected against toxic and harmful chemicals, but that is not always the case.”

Commonly referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS products have a chemical structure that prevents them from breaking down, allowing them to build up in soil, water and bodies, according to McKeag.

Busterud explained that PFAS serve as stain repellents and flame retardants in the carpet industry. In food packaging products, PFAS are used as grease repellents, according to John Katz, EPA pollution prevention coordinator for Region 9.

Identifying safer chemical alternatives while preserving the repellent qualities of PFAS is a goal of upcoming projects in the Greener Solutions program, Busterud said.

According to McKeag, the Greener Solutions program will also use the funding to expand its internship and outreach program.

“It’s especially critical that we use positive, innovative solutions to avoid some of these substances of concern if we can provide comparable functionality and technical performance,” McKeag said.

Contact Claire Daly and Amudha Sairam at [email protected].