For Earth Day 2012, MassDEP is posting a daily highlight celebrating environmental progress in Massachusetts.

Highlight for Friday April 20, 2012: Cleaner Air and Healthier Lungs

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Patrick-Murray Administration are committed to reducing the harmful air pollution generated by diesel engines. Recently, the Department celebrated the completion of a three-year effort to retrofit every eligible school bus in the state. Other efforts have included retrofits of: waste and recycling vehicles; state highway and construction vehicles; off-road construction vehicles; MBTA engines; Providence and Worcester railroad engines; the Massport Fish Pier; the purchase of hybrid trucks; and on-road freight vehicles through the Clean Markets program.

In all, MassDEP has spent more than $9 million to reduce diesel air pollution, and retrofitted or replaced more than 2,850 vehicles. For the school bus retrofits alone, this initiative provided more than 2,100 cleaner buses serving 310,000 students to 300 communities statewide. Cleaner air and healthier lungs - just another day's work at MassDEP.

Highlight for Thursday April 19, 2012: SRF Program Provides $6.24 Billion Since 1991 to Keep Water Clean

MassDEP and the Patrick-Murray Administration are dedicated to making sure our residents and our environment get the clean water we all need. Since 1991, the Massachusetts State Revolving Fund (SRF) has awarded $6.24 billion worth of loans to help Massachusetts cities and towns build 1,528 drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects. These projects have helped provide clean, healthy water for Massachusetts residents to drink, and clean water for the environment.

In 2010 and 2011, the SRF allocated a record $1.01 billion for 177 projects with the help of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. In recent years, the SRF has re-introduced 0 percent loans in nutrient-challenged areas and added incentives for green energy and projects in environmental justice communities.

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Highlight for Wednesday April 18, 2012: Fewer Spills and 29,000 Waste Sites Cleaned Up and Counting

Massachusetts has continued to make great progress cleaning up land contaminated with oil and hazardous materials through our nation-leading, semi-privatized cleanup program. Since 1993, there has been a steady decline in the number of spills and other "releases." This decline in spills and new sites can be attributed to on-going progress upgrading underground storage tanks, increasingly enhanced environmental management practices, and a shrinking number of new "historic" sites out there to be discovered.

In addition, since 1993, more than 29,000 contaminated sites across the Commonwealth have been cleaned up. Since 2002, the number of sites cleaned up each year has exceeded the number of new sites/spills being reported annually.

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Highlight for Tuesday April 17, 2012: Toxic Mercury Pollution Down 91% Since 1996

People in Massachusetts are breathing in less mercury, and eating less toxic fish, over the last two decades as several state policies and actions have delivered outstanding results. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can damage the developing brain in children and may increase heart problems in adults. People can be exposed to unsafe levels of mercury by eating certain types of fish, which concentrate mercury in their tissue from polluted waters. Nearly all mercury pollution is delivered through the air, and since 1996, toxic air emissions of mercury in Massachusetts have been reduced by 91 percent. This dramatic reduction has been accomplished through the placement of strict mercury pollution limits at municipal trash incinerators and coal-fired power plants, as well as curbs on mercury-added products and other sources by Massachusetts and our neighboring northeastern states. But we have more to do. Despite these declines in mercury emissions, mercury levels in fish remain too high - often exceeding guidelines for safe human consumption. In order to solve this problem, further reductions in mercury pollution is critically needed - particularly from sources in upwind states where mercury reduction steps have not been as robust as those taken in the northeastern states.

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Highlight for Monday April 16, 2012: Massachusetts is Pitching In to Increase Recycling

We recycle nearly half of our waste in Massachusetts, and everyone is pitching in. Supermarkets across the state are diverting increasing amounts of organic waste. Food waste is one of the top commercial contributors to our solid waste stream. Through a partnership between MassDEP and the Massachusetts Food Association, more than 300 local stores divert food waste and save big dollars on their waste disposal costs.

Cities and towns are also being smarter about their waste programs, working hard to save money by increasing recycling. More than 135 municipalities have implemented SMART (Save Money and Reduce Trash) programs where residents pay only for what they throw away, while recycling and composting is free. Communities with SMART programs reduce their trash tonnage by 35 percent on average. This frees up funds spent on trash disposal to pay for other city services.

While our commercial and municipal partners are raising the recycling bar, the Patrick-Murray Administration is not sitting idly by. Governor Patrick has each year proposed an expansion of the Bottle Bill in his budget. This expansion makes sense not only because it recycles more than 700 million additional beverage containers each year, generates revenue for the Commonwealth, and cleans up our parks, roads and public spaces, but also because it is tremendously effective. No other statewide recycling program achieves the more than the 70 percent recycling rate achieved by the Bottle Bill.

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