Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

By: Christina Motilall

When I close my eyes and picture the Rocky Mountains one word always comes to mind: Majestic.

That is why it troubles me to know this beautiful landscape (like many around the world) is threatened by air pollution. This pollution can not only harm the environment—it can harm those who live in it. That is why the work of Adam Eisele is crucial.

An environmental engineer for EPA’s Region 8 (Mountains and Plains), Adam researches sources of air toxics and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the area. VOCs are organic compounds (chemical compounds with molecules that contain carbon) that are both natural and man-made. They can affect anything from your eyes to your kidneys, in your home and out of it.

Adam says, “I chose to study air toxics and VOCs because the more I learned about this stuff, the more I realized how dangerous it was to us at certain concentrations.”

Adam Eisele (center) accepting the PECASE award, with EPA Science Advisor Dr. Glenn Paulson (left) and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dr. John Holdren (right).

Doing work in Bolivia and then Colorado, Adam paints answers with a broad scientific brush, analyzing how these pollutants work at low and high elevations and what effect that may have on human health. Adam explains, “Altitude certainly has an effect on air toxics, causing pollutants to behave a bit differently than we typically see at or near sea level… This all leads to complicated air quality management.  I helped design air monitoring strategies using scarce resources to protect the public by tracking and trending air quality.”

I believe the members of the public that will benefit from Adam’s research and community engagement are far-reaching because not just one type of community is at risk from VOCs and air toxics. Adam said, “It’s tough to ‘see’ air pollution a lot of the time, so I do what I can to make something that’s invisible and potentially harmful visible to the communities that may be affected by it.”

And he is a doing a great job at it. So great that he was one of two EPA scientists recently awarded the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) by President Barack Obama. “Shaking President Obama’s hand, I mentioned I work for EPA, to which he replied ‘Keep up the good work.’ It was pretty incredible.”

I agree with the President. Keep up the good work, Adam; it seems there ain’t no mountain high enough to keep you from protecting human health and the environment.

About the author: Christina Motilall is an intern for the Office of Research and Development’s Science Communications Team.