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The New Haven Ecology Project was awarded a $25,000 federal grant last week for its program to investigate pollution levels in New Haven and to increase environmental awareness in the community.

The project will examine water and air pollution levels in the city and will be conducted by students from the Common Ground High School, a public charter school whose parent organization is the NHEP, CGHS Environmental Educator Michelle Huang said. Once the environmental data has been compiled, she said the NHEP will make it publicly available.

The NHEP is one of four projects in New England and the only one in Connecticut to be awarded a grant by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a Jan. 19 EPA press release.

Robert Varney, regional administrator of the New England EPA office, said he is confident the NHEP project will improve environmental awareness in the New Haven community.

“This grant to the New Haven Ecology Project will result in specific activities that will help inform and empower residents so they can promote environmental health in their own neighborhood,” he said.

Huang said she thinks high pollution levels in New Haven influenced the EPA’s decision to fund her project.

“We’re quite pleased and honored to have received the grant, and we are really excited to be able to involve our students in what is cutting-edge research,” she said. “[Local environmental concerns are] why the EPA gave us this grant, in recognition that there are some serious concerns due to the industrial history of the area and the transportation corridors through this area.”

EPA Environmental Protection Specialist Davina Wysin said the EPA takes pollution levels into account when it awards such grants. She said the NHEP was among the selected projects based on its dual emphasis on research and community involvement.

“We were particularly excited about this project because it includes 30 participatory students,” she said.

The NHEP has previously received EPA funding for adult education programs, but this is the first time the group was awarded an environmental justice grant. Partners in the project include the municipal and state governments and groups such as the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, and the NHEP has also been aided by the Yale School of Nursing and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Schain said he is pleased that the NHEP was granted the award and that he thinks it will increase the involvement of adolescents in the drive to improve the environment in New Haven.

“The project helps build awareness among young people in the city of the types of environmental issues that face the community and helps … prepare them to be able to address them,” Schain said.

The project’s findings are expected to be released by the end of the school year and presented at the New Haven Science Fair in March 2007, Huang said.

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