EPA@40

EPA @40: Tell Us Your Story

By Melissa Toffel

I knew one thing growing up as a kid: I loved being outdoors. While other kids struggled with what they were going to major in, I just knew I was going to learn more about the outdoors, in whatever form of major that might be. I ended up studying Wildlife Conservation and loved my ornithology, mammalogy, and forestry classes.

After college I moved to the Philadelphia area and got a job with EPA Region 3. I started at EPA in the Pesticides and Asbestos branch — and it couldn’t have been further from the type of work I thought I was going to be doing when I finished college. I was at a desk, reading reports and visiting pesticide distributor facilities! But as it turned out, I loved it. A few years ago I joined the Underground Storage Tank Enforcement branch. Again, it was nothing I would have imagined myself doing. And again, I loved it.

Growing up I cherished the green all around me. After working at EPA I notice all the things that, even if you don’t see them right in front of your eyes, go into protecting the environment. When I fill up my car at the gas station, I think, “What condition are the tanks in that are holding the gasoline in the ground?” I actually wonder if the facility has been inspected recently. I check any chemicals we might use at home for EPA registration numbers. I’ve even gotten my mom to switch to a biodegradable cleanser to use around the house! I love the awareness that working at EPA has brought me. I think that is what I most appreciate from this job; I don’t blindly take things for granted or at face-value anymore.

I’ve taken on my fair share of tough cases in the decade I’ve been at EPA, and I know how to ask the tough questions and how to get answers. I have worked to bring a number of facilities back into compliance, and it makes me feel very fulfilled when I go home every day. I can see with my own eyes where we have made a difference, the latest being where I helped to get about a dozen leaking underground storage tanks removed from the ground and getting the facility to preserve a parcel of land to remain untouched from development. This case made me feel like every minute I’ve spent here at EPA has been put to good use.

This agency accomplishes amazing things, a lot that probably goes unnoticed by the general public. But I think that is part of what I’m so proud of. We may not be shouting from the rooftops what we do, but with our accomplishments we are genuinely making this earth a better place every day that we work, and for that I am beyond proud.

About the author: Melissa Toffel joined EPA Region III’s Philadelphia office in 2000, and currently works on underground storage tank enforcement. From learning so much at EPA, she’s made such energy-efficient choices as installing a tankless hot water heater in her home, changing out lightbulbs to CFCs, and participating in a CSA program.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EPA@40: Tell Us Your Story

by Richard Freitas

I’ve worked as a staff scientist at the EPA Region 9 San Francisco office since 1990, and much of my work involves the investigation of groundwater and surface water contamination. The work is often stressful as it regularly involves enforcement of the Superfund hazardous waste laws. Over the years I’ve worked on polluted sites throughout the southwest, helping communities protect their drinking water and clean water supplies from dangerous pollutants and other health threats. Most recently I worked on the Iron Mountain Mine, where our office was overseeing the dredging of contaminated sediments from Spring Creek which flows into the Keswick Reservoir and is the source of drinking water for the City of Redding, a city of around 80,000 people. The dredging of Spring Creek removed contaminated sediments before they could flush into the Reservoir and possibly affect the local drinking water supply.

Though I’ve put in time on a number of projects like Iron Mountain Mine during my 20 years with EPA, one of my best memories is of a project in which I was not involved. One day, on my drive back from a nearby San Francisco Bay wildlife refuge, I saw a sign on the City of Hayward, California wastewater treatment plant which read “Funded by a grant from USEPA.” Hayward is a small, largely lower-income city along the coast of the San Francisco Bay. I grew up in the city and went to college there. When I was a kid, I used to see toilet paper and other debris floating along the bayshore. Thanks to the wastewater plant, raw sewage is no longer discharged to this sensitive wildlife habitat. This may not mean a lot to anyone else, but having grown up Hayward, it meant a great deal to me to see the Agency I’ve worked so hard for all these years do something good for the city.

About the author: Rich Freitas is an Environmental Scientist with the Quality Assurance Office of the Environmental Protection Agency Office in San Francisco. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from the California State University, East Bay with graduate studies in the Dept.of Geological Sciences at the University of Toledo, Ohio.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Your Stories:EPA@40

By Sharon Jaffess

As a child in 1970, I played along the shores of Jamaica Bay in Far Rockaway, New York and collected water samples to look at under my microscope. I wrote a letter to EPA and was excited to receive a response. Just like Derek Jeter knew he wanted to be a New York Yankee as a child, I knew I wanted to be an EPA scientist.

I started with the agency as a summer intern in NYC in 1985. Thinking about EPA@40, I’m proud of all the work we’ve done to clean up sites, but what mostly comes to mind are my relationships with people, the citizens, co-workers and collaborators I’ve met over the years.

I remember Mrs. L who lived next door to the Tabernacle Drum Dump Superfund site. I’d sample her tap water for safety testing, then help feed her pigs and buy her green eggs, which had a light green shell from a South American breed of hen. There was Christina P. from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), who helped EPA clean up many sites but passed away before we could acknowledge her important contributions. Lisa B. was one of my “Sisters of Sediment.” Along with Rick W., Eric S. and Jon B. at NJDEP, we were instrumental in forming the interagency partnership to clean up the Passaic River. I remember the Newark Junior High School students we took out on the Passaic River, who were so excited to go out on the boat and learn; and the people in Battery Park City, St. Tamminy Parish, Louisiana, and Marshall, Michigan, who were all so appreciative of our efforts to clean up their towns. And I recall the Coast Guard Ensigns who I woke up at 2:00 a.m. to help me retrieve a canine body out of the Hudson River at Ground Zero. Seeing how upset I was, they took me for a speed ride on their boat, supposedly to “ungunk” the engine. It was the first time I smiled in a month.

When I think of EPA@40, it is more than just about the clean up work — it is about the citizens and the close friends I’ve made. I’m also startled to realize how I’m still thinking about contaminated water. Forty years ago, I couldn’t do much about it. But, over the past twenty-five years, I have.

About the author:  One of Sharon’s dreams came true in 1985 when EPA’s New York office hired this University of Rochester trained geologist to clean up hazardous waste in NY and NJ. Sharon re-focused her attention to the equally important work for the citizens in the Great Lakes Region, graduated from the Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government Leadership Program, and was recently charged to manage and lead the Superfund Division’s Site Assessment Program.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.