In 1986, the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by then President Ronald Reagan. Section 126 of SARA mandated that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop standards to protect the health and safety of workers engaged in hazardous waste site operations and emergency response to hazardous materials incidents (HAZWOPER). Section 126 of SARA also called for allocation of monies from the Superfund, the nation’s fund for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, for a national program to provide training grants to “non-profit” organizations that could develop and deliver health and safety training for HAZWOPER workers. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) established the Superfund Worker Training Program in September of 1987 and issued eleven awards to organizations throughout the U.S. The New England Consortium was one of those eleven awarded organizations.
TNEC’s original member organizations included the Work Environment Program of the University of Lowell, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (RICOSH), The Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health (ConnectiCOSH), the Maine Labor Group on Health, and Harvard, Boston, Tufts, and Yale Universities. By spring 1988, TNEC had developed a course for hazardous waste site workers (40-hour), hazardous waste management workers at Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulated Treatment, Storage, and Disposal sites (40-hour and 24-hour), municipal emergency response workers (24-hour), and several other health and safety courses. All these courses met the requirements of the new OSHA HAZWOPER standard, 29 CFR 1910.120.
By the end of its third year, TNEC had become a leader in Hazardous Waste Site and Emergency Response training in New England. TNEC’s teams of trainers were setting the standards for high quality, worker-oriented, participatory and hands-on health and safety training in New England. In 1991, the U.S. Congress authorized funding to continue the Superfund Worker Training Program. Since that time, TNEC continued to receive funding. Beginning in 1992, TNEC under the direction of the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML), had a slightly different set of member organizations. The other universities, whose experts in occupational health and safety had helped to develop the curricula and training program, were no longer needed. The Maine Labor Group on Health left to be part of a national consortium. Two new groups joined the Consortium: the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (Western MassCOSH), and the New Hampshire Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (NHCOSH). Along with MassCOSH, RICOSH, and ConnectiCOSH, these five New England health and safety advocacy organizations have worked in collaboration with the UML program since 1992. In 2010, TNEC gained a new important partner with the addition of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), Local 1000 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in New York state. TNEC officially became TNEC-CSEA. In 2017, Western MassCOSH left the consortium.
From 1987 until September 1999, TNEC was part of the broader program under the UMass Lowell Department of Work Environment. In 2001, TNEC became a major project of the newly formed Center for Public Health Research and Health Promotion, which maintained strong ties with the Department of Work Environment. TNEC’s program supported the growth of several other worker training efforts in Massachusetts and at UML. TNEC collaborated with JFY Networks by providing 40-hour hazardous waste site worker health and safety training for students enrolled in their Environmental Technology Training Program. This was a key training element in TNEC’s environmental justice efforts. Over the years, TNEC collaborated with other job training programs including STRIVE and Boston Connects in Boston, two Lowell programs – Environmental Justice on Brownfields Sites (JOBS) based at UMass Lowell and the Coalition for a Better Acre – Groundwork Providence (RI) and the Hartford (CT) Job Funnel. These programs provide basic life skills, jobs skills, basic science, and health, safety and environmental training for low income, minority residents of Boston and Lowell who wish to pursue a career as either hazardous waste remediation workers or environmental technicians. TNEC is now a major project of the UML Department of Public Health.
Over the 34 years that TNEC has been part of the cooperative agreement with NIEHS’ Worker Training Program (WTP) it has worked on many important WTP projects. Early on, TNEC helped in the process to draft and promote The Interpretive Guidance to the Minimum Criteria for Hazardous Waste Worker Training (Appendix E of the HAZWOPER standard); and then to update this Guidance to apply to HAZWOPER-Supporting and All Hazards Prevention, Preparedness and Response. TNEC has worked with the WTP to look at best practices and lessons learned and engaged in the strategic planning process for the national program’s future direction. Additionally, TNEC has partnered with individual WTP awardee organizations. TNEC’s participation through these collaborations and diverse projects has served to strengthen the consortium as well as the work of other WTP awardees. The projects have included: program and trainer evaluation; the integration of computer-based technology as ‘blended learning’, that enhances but does not take the place of hands-on participatory methods; Brownfields Minority Worker Training Program establishment and training delivery; special training initiatives, such as public awareness training relative to the Y2K rollover, and all hazards training for public health workers in protecting themselves while helping others; disaster preparedness training, for the aftermath of extreme weather events, for municipalities, private companies, state and federal agencies, and community organizations; participation on the Clearinghouse for Worker Health and Safety’s advisory board, and on subcommittees relative to the creation and accessibility of new curricula and training methods; and helping to plan the WTP’s technical workshops and National Trainers Exchange conferences.
TNEC has worked with more than 2,000 New England employers and provided training to many of the major environmental and health and safety regulatory agencies in New England, including the U.S. EPA and OSHA, Region I. TNEC’s adherence to NIEHS’s Minimum Criteria for Worker Health and Safety Training for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response ensures the provision of high quality training from one of the nation’s model health and safety training programs.