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Mapping their success

What started as a high school class's mission to map local hazardous-chemical sites has won thanks and praise from community leaders and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the teacher and his students.

The project at Chelsea High School in Massachusetts, which integrates geography with science, physics, and computer math, ultimately brought more than 60 area companies into compliance with the 1986 federal Community Right to Know Act. The law requires businesses to report the use and location of hazardous chemicals.

That compliance record is up from only two companies that had such information on the books last year.

The students were enthusiastic and led the way for the Chelsea project, said Leonard Wallace IV, an environmental scientist with the Boston office of the EPA.

The project began last year when teacher Walter Paul--with help from William Hamilton, a geography professor at Salem State College--began working on a plan for his Geography Information Systems course, or GIS. The elective at the 1,800-student high school uses specially designed software, satellite technology, and other data to create maps.

After surveying companies on their use of hazardous materials, students mapped out the data they collected.

Now, local fire and police officials and the Boston office of the EPA are using the students' maps to plan for fires and other accidents that might involve hazardous chemicals.

"The 'hazmat' project gave kids a real sense of how they can make a difference in their community," Mr. Paul said. He added that the class mission provided an incentive for students to work hard on material that otherwise could seem far moved from their lives.

Mr. Paul, who has worked in the Chelsea district for four years, said the accolades that followed the class project gave schools in the impoverished industrial city a deserved pat on the back.

Beginning in the fall, several other school systems in the area --after summer training led by Mr. Paul and Mr. Hamilton--will add similar programs to their own curricula.

Students' work on the project did not end when school did. One student, Roger Valladares, will continue on as paid summer intern at the EPA until he leaves to study cartography and geography at Salem State College in the fall.


Vol. 17, Issue 41, Page 3

Published in Print: June 24, 1998, as Take Note

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