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MIT aids in Charles River cleanup

MIT will assume an active role in the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Charles 2005 campaign, providing a boat that will make regular cleanup patrols under the supervision of the MIT boatmaster. The EPA goal is to make the river safe for swimming and fishing by Earth Day 2005.

MIT will also subsidize a graduate student with special skills to work on the campaign, and sponsor and host a competition that invites engineers, landscape designers and other experts to create ingenious, economical and achievable solutions for the problems on the river. Student crews from MIT, Boston University, Northeastern and Harvard will man the boat.

MIT's commitments were announced Tuesday at a news conference at the Watertown Dam during which the EPA issued its annual report card on the status of the river.

New England EPA Administrator John P. DeVillars said the Charles was noticeably cleaner that a year ago, fit for boating 83 percent of the time compared to 70 percent in 1998. As for swimming, the water met safety standards 51 percent of the time, compared to 34 percent the previous year.

In addition, Mr. DeVillars announced the formation of the Clean Charles 2005 Coalition of five universities including MIT, six companies and an environmental group. The coalition will work collectively and individually on voluntary storm water management, education and water-quality research. Students in MIT's Sea Grant program already study water quality in the river in a seminar entitled "How Clean is Clean?"

"The EPA is thrilled to have so many world-class private sector institutions working with us to make the Charles a healthier, cleaner river," Mr. DeVillars told an audience that included government officials, environmentalists, educators and students from Watertown High School. "These private institutions will bring new perspective, new talent, new resources and new strength to this challenging endeavor -- a major addition to the impressive group of state, federal and local partners that has already been assembled."

In addition to MIT, members of the newly formed coalition are Boston University, Brandeis, Harvard, Northeastern, Massachusetts General Hospital, Polaroid, Genzyme, Triumverate Environmental Services, Stop & Shop and the Charles River Watershed Association.

In announcing MIT's contributions to the Clean Charles 2005 campaign at the news conference, Paul Parravano, co-director of the President's Office of Government and Community Relations, said, "We are here today in large part due to the perseverance and strong senseof purpose of John DeVillars. We recognize and admire the role that he and his agency have played in making the dream of a swimmable and fishable Charles an attainable reality.

"MIT has a major stake in this goal. The Charles River is our front yard, providing a playground for the entire community and an important educational tool for our students. More than 2,300 students, faculty, administrators, staff and family members enjoy the river in MIT sailboats and rowing shells. We will all reap the benefits when Memorial Drive becomes beachfront property."

Noting that MIT sailors and rowers must pass a swimming test before setting foot in an Institute boat, Mr. Parravano said, "For decades, that test has been administered in a pool. Thanks to this project, we look forward to the time in 2005 when we can hold swimming tests in the Charles River."

A version of this article appeared in the April 14, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 26).

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