There are several major milestones in my career that have shaped my respect for environmental restoration. These defining moments are not particularly unique among my peers, but they have laid the foundation for my career path as a consultant and environmental advocate.
I started my career working on a project in a village in Guam called Mongmong. I spent my first two years collecting sediment and biota samples in a hot, humid swamp. Each day I knocked on residents’ doors, along with a local villager, to access sampling locations. I saw the worry and anxiety in the eyes of residents who lived generationally with environmental contamination. It taught me how some chemicals can have a long-lasting impact on a community’s perspective. People in the village explained to me the immense challenges they faced, including struggling with the fear of cancer and other health related challenges. Finding some of the highest concentrations in an abandoned playground garnered compassion from me for this community living near contamination and empowered my commitment to restoration. This chapter in my career influenced me to learn how to use technologies to address environmental justice.
In the early 2000s, innovative remediation technologies were rapidly growing, and more green, sustainable remediation approaches were emerging. However, applying these innovations to achieve expedient and efficient site closures remained elusive. How could we restore the environment better, faster, cheaper, but also sustainably and with minimal impact?
Scientists developed bioremediation by using medical techniques to track DNA and RNA of microbes in the environment and enhanced the natural systems that would encourage bacteria to degrade and gain energy from contaminants. After many years of research and development, big data revealed the types and functionalities of microbes and the effective application of bioremediation. This alleviated the need to remove contamination by intensive and well-worn physical methods, such as pump and treat methods.
Today, we are facing new challenges with emerging contaminants, including Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and 1,4-dioxane, which are pervasive and can have adverse human health and environmental impacts. The unique chemical properties that made these chemicals attractive to industry makes them extremely difficult to break down and remove from the environment. Can they be biodegraded? Can we develop sustainable solutions that address them like other known contaminants?
We can use the lessons learned from tackling other pollutants, and tailor our expertise and proven technologies to the unique challenges posed by these forever chemicals. Also, we can incorporate the new fields of applied intelligence, digital solutions, and place stronger emphasis on sustainable and resilient methodologies to accelerate the R&D-to-market timeline.
I look forward to starting this new chapter of my career with Wood and unlocking solutions to create cleaner, protected environments for future generations.