The Blackstone Project is a joint initiative of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance (MOTA) focused on helping industry reduce the generation of hazardous waste. It is named after the Blackstone Valley, often called the "Birthplace of America's Industrial Revolution," where early settlers took advantage of the natural river resources in the early 19th century. It has proven to be the most effective pollution prevention program to date providing both regulatory inspections and technical assistance to companies. It strives to address the vast problem of environmental degradation in a novel but practical manner, namely through prevention rather than cure. Industrial environmental regulation has traditionally been carried out through separate agencies focused on separate media. The Blackstone initiative integrates this practice by providing cross-media inspections (inspections by the same regulators across media such as air, water and soil). It also combines these regulatory measures with technical assistance and strong environmental standards.
The project compels participants to focus on the production process rather than end byproducts to reduce pollution. This "source reduction" objective implies prevention of pollution through the use of non-toxic or less toxic materials in the production process, fundamental changes in the production process itself, recovery and reuse of process materials, and adoption of better management practices.
The project's initial milestones are notable. DEP conducted 26 facility inspections, completing 48 separate compliance assurance checks in each, between January and March 1990. Four inspectors with vastly different backgrounds, levels of expertise and seniority were able to successfully complete cross-media inspections and identify opportunities for reducing industrial wastes at the source. They were also able to take appropriate enforcement actions against violators.
A new generation of cross-media inspectors is being trained to carry on similar tasks. During the first year of the program, the DEP recommended waste prevention strategies to 14 of the 26 target firms and referred all of them to the MOTA. Eight companies, seven of which worked with this office, have taken steps to reduce waste and are developing source reduction plans.
Successfully replication of The Blackstone Project is also in progress. The whole compliance inspection model developed by the program staff is already being replicated by DEP in other regions of Massachusetts. Environmental agencies in Maine and Rhode Island have reviewed the results of the pilot project and may replicate the agency's whole facility approach. In effect, The Blackstone Project has demonstrated that a combined regulatory inspection and technical assistance program can work. It has shown that expensive investments at the end of the pipe that create no added value, production efficiency or cost savings are futile. Industry representatives, agency staff, and public interest groups have expressed significant enthusiasm and support for the project. However, its ultimate success will probably depend on the willingness of regulatory agencies to outgrow their traditional "one pipe at a time" approach and embrace this new method of environmental protection.