A Truly Top Notch Finish

February 21, 2003
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LANSING — The National Association of Metal Finishers recently honored Robert Jackson with a special recognition award for his efforts to prevent pollution on behalf of the industry.

Jackson is chief of the Program and Technical Support Unit in the Pollution Prevention and Technical Assistance Section of the Environmental Science and Services Division within the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The Michigan Association of Metal Finishers nominated Jackson — without telling him, by the way — for the prestigious national award because of his significant contributions to the organization and its members. The national group cited Jackson for developing outreach programs that have advanced the use of pollution prevention (P2) practices among metal finishers in Michigan.

"I felt that it was a great honor to be recognized by the association as being a contributor to their effort of environmental improvement," said Jackson. "I think the award says that we are proactive and that we have an interest in working on voluntary programs with industry to achieve positive environmental results."

The P2 program has resulted in solid waste and wastewater reductions, conservation of water and increases in energy efficiency.

The Environment Protection Agency's Strategic Goals Program (SGP) has recognized metal finishers for their pollution-reduction achievements resulting from their participation in P2. In just the last two years, 10 state finishers have won SGP bronze medals, while six have captured silver. The 2002 metal finishers medal winners will be named in March.

Amy Butler, chief of the Environmental Science and Services Division, said Jackson was the driving force behind the success that the P2 program has achieved statewide, and, now with the NAMF award, nationally.

Metal finishers in Grand Rapids have known Jackson since 1989, the year he started working in pollution prevention. Last year, Jackson placed a few students with local metal finishing firms to work on new prevention programs. Two years ago, he demonstrated new technology procedures to area metal finishers.

"I think that they are proactive and are conscious that their operations can have significant impacts on the environment," said Jackson of the metal finishers. "And I think that they are trying to put systems and practices in place to not only improve their position economically, but to reduce the environmental impacts."

In addition to his pollution prevention work with metal finishers, Jackson also helps these companies plan for hazardous emergencies — work that is vital because many metal finishers are located in urban neighborhoods.

"I've found them not only very helpful in trying to reduce the amount of waste material generated in emissions from a facility, but they've also put in place plans to respond to emergencies at their facilities to protect citizens from potential danger," said Jackson.

"They've done a lot recently and in the past to minimize their operation in a community."

The DEQ division has a staff of 50 that works in partnership with industries throughout the state on a variety of environmental programs.

"I do believe that one of the driving factors behind the success of each of our programs are the people that are working with them because they are so passionate about their jobs and of the benefit that they are providing to the environment and to the public health," said Butler, who has been with the DEQ for 24 years.

"We like to go out and work with all kinds of industries, as well as the public sector and private citizens, in extending education and outreach so they know how to do it right, so they have the opportunity to volunteer in pollution prevention, and so they have the opportunity to go beyond what is required," she added.

Acting DEQ press secretary Patricia Spitzley said programs like P2 seem to fit well with the agenda recently presented by new Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"The governor and our director, Steven Chester, are both of the same mindset that economic development, industry and a cleaner environment are not mutually exclusive of each other," said Spitzley.

The DEQ will continue to train metal finishers on environmental management systems through June under the SGP program, an effort the division started last November. Jackson said he believes that a majority of these firms will pursue Clean Corporate Citizen status soon after they finish the training.           

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