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.

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