TO environmentalists, the Massachusetts answer to a complicated pollution problem is refreshingly simple: Cut down on industry's toxic chemical use during production and there will be less waste to clean up later. This preventive approach is the essence of the state's Toxics Use Reduction Act, which encourages industry to revise production processes, improve monitoring, and decrease toxic chemical usage.
The goal of the act is an ambitious one: to decrease industrial toxic chemical waste by 50 percent by 1997.
Although the act was passed last year, companies are just now showing signs of compliance.
The Massachusetts program has been hailed as one of the most progressive in the country. Environmentalists say the approach of hitting industry earlier in the pipeline is long overdue.
``The environmental regulatory system that we have created over 20 years doesn't really outlaw waste and pollution. It simply regulates [them],'' says Joel Hirschorn, president of EnviroSearch East, an environmental consulting firm.
The Massachusetts law requires companies that use large amounts of toxic chemicals - roughly 10,000 pounds or more - to file inventory reports with the state on what and how much they use. The state has a list of identified toxic chemical substances. By 1994, these companies must draw up plans for how they will reduce their use of the chemicals.
The state will review the plans, provide guidance, and monitor progress. In addition, a new Toxics Use Reduction Institute has been established at the University of Lowell for education and research purposes.
The act also includes is a toxic-chemical use fee to raise between $4 million to $5 million a year to help finance the program.
It's a ``good example of the most progressive environmental legislation in the country. ... It's very advanced in promoting the pollution-prevention theme,'' Mr. Hirschorn says.
Illinois and Indiana have passed laws similar to the one in Massachusetts, says David Allen, director of the pollution-prevention project of the National Toxics Campaign in Boston.
Other states - California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Maine, and Georgia - have passed toxic-use reduction laws as well, but they are not as clearly focused on pollution prevention. These laws combine pollution prevention with more traditional methods of waste reduction such as recyling, Mr. Allen says.
Recyling legislation often becomes the ``big loophole for industry. ... [It] basically erodes the prevention strategies and the ability to achieve pollution prevention is undercut,'' Allen explains.
Although it is too early to see substantial results from the Massachusetts law, some companies have started pollution-prevention programs on their own.
Digital Equipment Corporation of Maynard, Mass., has developed a new aqueous solution for cleaning circuit boards that will reduce the use of chlorofluorocarbon solvents. Digital has shared information about this solution with other companies.
Polaroid Corporation of Cambridge, Mass., launched its own toxics use and waste reduction program in 1988. The program's goals are to reduce toxic chemical usage during production and reduce chemical waste by 10 percent each year. The company aims to reduce toxic chemical usage and waste 50 percent by 1993.
Although such efforts to reduce chemical waste are important, Allen emphasizes singling out toxic chemical usage as a pollution-control measure before it becomes waste.
Besides environmental benefits, companies will also enjoy important economic benefits. Allen cites: reduced compliance costs to waste disposal regulations; reduced insurance and liability costs; production costs will be lower since companies will be forced to use materials more efficiently and will spend less on pollution control technologies.
Industry opposition to the Massachusetts law, however, has stalled tougher action in some states as well as any significant legislation at the federal level, says Mr. Hirschorn.
In addition, there is a subtler kind of opposition from waste management and pollution control industries, says Hirschorn. ``If we were successful in time [with pollution prevention], we would kill much of the business of this waste management, pollution control industry, '' he says.
Bay State companies have mixed feelings about the new law. ``There's skepticism because [some companies] believe the environmental agencies, all they want to do is regulate, regulate, regulate,'' says Robert Ruddock, vice president for energy and environment programs of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
Other companies, Mr. Ruddock says, actually helped in crafting the Massachusetts law.
According to Hirschorn, the easy part is passing toxics use reduction legislation. But the larger question, he says, is what does it lead to? ``We don't really know yet to what extent the state laws are going to be effective in causing change in industry.''