Projects & Partners

This page provides brief descriptions of the projects underway at the Living Systems Laboratory, with links to partner organizations.

Current Projects:

I. Ornamental Flowers

Past Projects:

I. Degradation of Bunker C oil by white-rot basidiomycetes

II. Sustainable community development of bioremediation systems

III. Monitoring pollutants using passive sampling

Our Partners:

The Fisherville Redevelopment Company (FRC) is the owner of the site and has been the persevering force behind the development of Fisherville Mill Site since it was bought in 2004.  Gene Bernat, CEO of FRC, was the man with the vision to develop and promote the Fisherville Mill Site.  He has done most of the networking within the town and county to promote the project.  In 2006 when the soils needed to be tested for contaminants in order to proceed with the project, the FRC provided the funding for the tests.  The Fisherville Redevelopment Company has provided the sweat equity to keep the vision of the project strong over the years that have made the Living Systems Lab and the Mill Villages Park what it is today.   FRC is working closely with the town to design and build the trails, secure permits and will provide granite slabs as pedestals as medium for the art installation that will be placed in the Mill Village Park.

The Grafton Community has been extremely receptive of the development of the Fisherville Mill Site and town meetings involving the site have been well attended since plans for development began there in 2006.  During this year, the community decided in a unanimous vote to fund the cleanup of the site, which at this point had been a Brownfield.  The town stepped up again in 2010 when it decided to fund the creation and maintenance of the Mill Villages Park on the site, again, unanimously.  Additionally, the community participated in the design of the Mill Villages Park itself through the Mill Villages Advisory Committee.

John Todd Ecological Design, LLC (JTED) designed and helped to construct the Living Systems Laboratory’s Eco Machine and Canal Restorers (together making up the LSL), which are responsible for the restoration at the Fisherville Mill site.  JTED continues to monitor and upkeep the site, and holds periodic technical workshops at the Fisherville Mill Site on Ecological Design.

The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, The Blackstone River Coalition and The Mass Audubon Society all have a strong interest in the Fisherville Mill Site.  The northern portion is still a designated Brownfield that lies inside the boundaries of the Corridor and watershed and contains several sites of historical value, including the burned down Fisherville Mill.  Donna Williams, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Commission, has been integral in garnering public support and helping in the planning of the development of the Fisherville Mill Site, as well as other mill sites in the area, with the co-writing of the South Grafton Villages Master Plan.  The National Heritage Corridor also routinely sends its rangers to the Fisherville Mill site to receive and give regional historical and environmental training.  On June 19th of this year, these rangers held a summer public “Walkabout” through the site in which the rangers taught participants about the history of the Fisherville Mill Site and how the Eco Machine is helping to protect and preserve the Blackstone Watershed.

The US Environmental Protection Agency provided extensive funding for the Fisherville Mill Site.  After the 1999 fire at the Fisherville Mill, the EPA under “Emergency Response Action”, and the Massachusetts State DEP spent several million dollars treating trichloroethylene (TCE) pollution at the site using various means, including in-situ chemical oxidation and groundwater collection and treatment. The EPA later awarded the Town of Grafton a $671,000 grant to design, construct and operate an innovative ground water, storm water and river water treatment and improvement park consisting of several integrated elements. As part of this project, John Todd Ecological Design (JTED) was contracted by the Town to design and implement a restoration plan for the Blackstone River using an engineered ecosystem utilizing the canal trench and the existing infrastructure remaining from the destroyed Fisherville Mill.

The Network for Sustainability Innovation is a multi-disciplinary network of students, professionals and universities that is reexamining efforts to promote urban sustainability, doing case studies in Worcester, Providence and Philadelphia.  Currently, major players include Brown University, Clark University and Temple University.  The group is focusing on the Living Systems Laboratory as a model for how social, environmental and cultural factors come together to create a more sustainable urban landscape.

Clark University has supported the effort at the Fisherville Mill through the provision of researchers during various stages in its early development.  Dr. David Hibbett of the Biology Department and his student, Darcy Young, were indispensable in the refinement of the techniques utilized for the degradation of contaminant oil via fungal enzymes in the Eco Machine.  This project was supported in part by The Mosakowski Institute.  The Fisherville Mill Site has been the subject of a Masters level environmental modeling course in which students examined the importance of each the social, environmental and economic in its future developmental success.  One student, Sean Hutton, went on to write a comprehensive narrative for another development project in the site for his thesis.  Additionally, several graduate and undergraduate classes have taken field trips to the site while studying ecological diversity and design.

Brown University Superfund Research Program’s Dr. James Rice is a Post-Doctoral Research and a chemical engineer interested in the fate and transport, chemistry, and thermodynamics of environmental contaminants, and on translation of scientific research to relevant stakeholders, such as regulators, policy makers, and community members.  Dr. Rice conducted a 2013 research externship at the Fisherville Mill site under the mentorship of Robert Burgess, Ph.D., a staff scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Dr. Rice will led a freshwater passive sampler study in the Blackstone River at the Fisherville Mill site to monitor heating oil contamination and other potential pollutants to monitor contaminant concentrations in surface waters and sediment, and provide information on dissolved and biologically available concentrations of persistent organic pollutants.  Furthermore, during the summer of 2012 Dr. Rice worked with the Fisherville Redevelopment Company and John Todd Ecological Design to monitor petroleum hydrocarbons in the river sediment and water and from the Eco Machine bioremediation tanks.