Asbestos has been used for centuries in countless building products because of its strength, flexibility, and heat resistance. In the late 1960s, however, evidence emerged that this versatile material was a dangerous health risk. Asbestos, lead-based paint, and mold are just a few of the potential hazards environmental consultants search for inside schools, hospitals, and other community properties. To assess the safety of buildings, these investigators also look for outside sources of contamination, such as petroleum or chemical leakage from underground storage tanks. As an environmental consultant with Facility Engineering Associates, Maureen Roskoski works to keep the public safe from environmental hazards.
What do you do?
When a company or individual wants to purchase a property, but needs to know the potential environmental concerns before closing the deal, they come to me for an assessment. I start with a complete historical review of the property to determine its past uses. For example, if an office building was built in an urban area in 1980, I figure out what existed on that same property prior to that year. I review aerial photographs, fire insurance maps, and city directories. If a gas station or a dry cleaner resided on the property during the 1950s or 1970s there is cause for environmental concern; improper historical practices may have resulted in soil or groundwater contamination. I also check state and federal databases for surrounding sites that could contaminate the property. Many factors come into play when determining if an off-site area may have caused contamination, such as the geology and hydrogeology of the area, the type and extent of contamination identified at the site, and the topographic gradient. If I identify a potential environmental concern, I recommend further investigation, which usually consists of performing soil and groundwater sampling. In these tests, wells are drilled into the ground, soil and water samples are collected and analyzed by a lab, and a corrective action plan is prepared. The historical data and off-site information are pooled with my assessment of the property’s indoor contaminants, such as radon or mold.
To expose potential hazards within a building, I use sampling methods and evaluate action levels—the degree of a harmful toxin that requires medical surveillance, increased industrial hygiene monitoring, or biological monitoring—based on scientific studies and data. The work I am most proud of involves projects in which I help someone and make a difference. For instance, I did a survey of a public building and found asbestos pipe insulation in very poor condition. No one in the building was aware of this potential hazard, and these residents were being exposed to a cancer-causing agent on a daily basis. My company helped the building get rid of the asbestos and left the property in much better shape.
Advice for students?
There are many paths in the environmental industry for all education levels, from technicians with high school educations, to environmental engineers with undergraduate degrees, to industrial hygienists with masters, and senior consultants with doctorates. To learn more about different options, students can visit the Environmental Careers Organization online at www.eco.org. For more information about my career in particular, students can e-mail me at email@example.com. My undergraduate degree is in environmental Earth science with a strong biology emphasis. I originally wanted to be a marine biologist, but when grad school did not pan out I took a job as an environmental consultant—and here I am today! I have learned a lot about my profession through on-the-job training and through several outside classes required for asbestos and lead work. However, my undergraduate education—from lab techniques to problem solving—taught me about scientific process…and I use that knowledge every day.
—By Megan Sullivan