I struggle with chit-chat at social gatherings when the inevitable, “What do you do?” question is asked. It is easy to say I work for the EPA. But if the party-goer probes further, my answer is usually, “Well I work with a group of scientists and engineers who do lots and lots of different complicated sciency things in the laboratory and in the field to protect public health and the environment.” Usually at this point they ignore me and turn to my wife, the professional photographer, in an effort to avoid being blinded with science.
Joking aside, science is at the very core of everything we do as an Agency. In a Regional office, most of the Science we perform is Applied Science…taking all of the data and conclusions of basic science research, national studies, and Agency policies and translating them into decisions that affect the public and the environment in a very real way, often in their own backyards. Here in Kansas City, I’m lucky to have a team of professionals that has received numerous top national awards and recognition in an ill-understood but extremely important scientific field, risk assessment. In fact, when I searched Greenversations it wasn’t even mentioned.
Risk Assessment is a scientific process used to characterize the nature and magnitude of health risks to humans, fish and wildlife from exposures to chemical contaminants and other stressors. It brings together many scientific disciplines including chemistry, biology, toxicology, geology, statistics and ecology, all with the goal of providing the scientific support behind the Agency’s decisions. Risk Assessment is the science behind the establishment of fish advisories, cleanup levels at hazardous waste sites, evaluating health risks associated with toxic air pollutants, and registration of pesticides.
Beyond the obvious ability to affect decisions regarding human health and the environment, those of us involved with risk assessment enjoy the discipline since it is constantly evolving. Updated information on the toxicity of chemicals continually emerges, new exposure pathways come to the forefront such as vapor intrusion and exciting activities are always around the corner such as the field as computational toxicology. It is both challenging and rewarding to ensure that the best science is brought to bear as we meet tough challenges in the coming years. We’ll be hard at work performing the science behind the scenes; however don’t be afraid to talk to one of us at a cocktail party. Scientists are people too.