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From water treatment to power generation, these women protect the environment and the humans working in it.
In the two years of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted sweeping reforms. According to Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs, the agency has overturned the Obama Administration’s requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane leaks, as well as the rule limiting toxic emissions from industrial facilities.
It’s also revoked regulations curtailing coal ash waste and announced actions to suspend Waters of the U.S., which defines which bodies are covered by the Clean Water Act. Under the current administration the EPA also seeks to redefine the emissions rules for power plant startups, shutdowns and malfunctions, among other changes.
Regardless of whether you support these policy revisions or oppose them, whenever you’re dealing with large environmental factors and big changes, it’s clear you’re dealing with layers of regulations.
However, that’s only one challenge facing environmental engineers today. Aging infrastructure, increasing demand, and changing technology also dictate the scope and direction of future projects.
And to address these challenges and changes, environmental engineers need a critical skill set that includes a working knowledge of chemical engineering, fluid dynamics, geography, geology and hydrology, according to Live Science.
“Also, because of the numerous legal issues involved and the prevalence of litigation in environmental issues, environmental engineers must be familiar with applicable laws, and many of them are also practicing attorneys,” says Live Science.
Here engineers working in the environmental discipline today discuss their work, and their passion for it, while imparting critical career advice. Learn from them, from compliance to conservation, the many facets of protecting the environment.
Milian & McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. Construct a Safer Workforce
As Ruth Milian says, “Playing a role in improving the environment in which we live is extremely satisfying.”
Indeed, protecting the planet is a common denominator for most professionals choosing the environmental engineering discipline. However, Milian, a project safety manager for McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., accomplishes this goal by not only following standards to preserve soil, air and water conditions, but she also monitors humans by policing procedures at work sites and enforcing proper protocols.
“This effort includes site inspections for occupational hazards, from existing conditions, environmental, human and even wildlife, along with the preplanning of activities to prevent hazards and injuries. I’m also responsible for maintaining job site logs, such as chemical inventory and training completions, and providing information and safety training to the workforce,” she says.
During the past decade Milian has seen how effective these practices can be at preserving workers’ conditions.
“A truly significant change has been the acceptance and adoption of safety requirements by both new and experienced workers. This shift in mindset shows how far we’ve progressed and the real opportunity we have to achieve zero injuries on our projects,” she explains.
The St. Louis, MO-based construction corporation boasts numerous awards for excellence in safety, sustainability and corporate citizenship, as well as for design and construction.
Milian hasn’t always specialized in safety. She began as a structural engineer and joined McCarthy in 2007 as a project engineer.
“As a student, I knew the [civil and environmental engineering] discipline had a broad reach; however, I didn’t know how broad nor how versatile it could be. The construction industry continues to break new frontiers and interconnects with other disciplines,” she says.
Shortly after settling in at McCarthy, Milian remembers how the Great Recession struck at the end of the 2000s and the building sector was hard hit. In hindsight, though, the economic downturn allowed her to learn about the business from another point of view.
“I spent time in McCarthy’s estimating department. I eventually returned to the field as an assistant superintendent and later transitioned to safety coordinator before becoming a safety manager,” she recalls.
Each job change allowed Milian to strengthen and broaden her skill repertoire and knowledge base about work site safety along with preventing environmental hazards due to human error. Some of that has come through formal training.
“I’ve been encouraged to seek the certifications and designations available. McCarthy is 100% employee-owned, so we’re constantly pushing each other to strive for our goals. In encouraging each other, we train each other, too,” she notes.
Some has been more organic. “I’ve participated in peer-group sessions, mentoring and more, including McCarthy Partnership for Women employee resource group events with other women across our company.”
She continues: “I’m proud that McCarthy believes in a diverse workforce. Our diversity gives us the different perspectives to create the best plans and outcomes for our work, and deliver exceptional experiences for our clients. I have no doubt the opportunities that lie ahead will be encouraged and supported by my McCarthy employee partners.”
Check out the professional environment at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. by logging on to mccarthy.com/careers, or by following the company on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube.
Greenberg Clears Hazards for Clean Harbors Environmental Services
Manufacturing, power generation and, really, any kind of industrial processes produce waste that must be properly disposed so it doesn’t pose a threat to the environment. Of course, that’s why restrictions have been passed; however, understanding those regulations requires a specialized knowledge base.
Not all impacted businesses have the qualified experts on staff, nor the logistical wherewithal to manage such complicated procedures.
Since 1980 Clean Harbors Environmental Services, based in Norwell, MA, has cultivated an in-depth cache of subject-matter experts to walk clients through regulatory mazes and the appropriate procedures.
But handling materials that may be detrimental to the environment also present hazards to humans. Paula Greenberg has become a subject-matter expert on workplace safety so other Clean Harbors specialists are protected from potential dangers.
“I’m responsible for the safety program of multiple treatment storage and disposal facilities in the Southeast,” says the senior health and safety program manager.
“My duties involve advising and auditing for OSHA compliance, developing and monitoring safety initiatives, and advising on the safe handling of hazardous and reactive materials. I’m also a representative of the high-hazard review team that assesses safety protocols for highly dangerous material streams across the country.”
When Greenberg was a student more than 35 years ago, she seized every opportunity to learn about the emerging field of environmental engineering, even though opportunities were limited. At the time the University of Houston only offered one environmentally oriented course.
“That’s where I learned, among a lot of things, the mechanics of a wastewater system clarifier and how it works,” says Greenberg.
A cooperative education position, however, exposed her to more aspects of the discipline.
“I tried to take advantage of every experience and opportunity that arose to bolster my skill set for future use as an engineer,” she recalls.
Since then Greenberg has accumulated numerous experiences, including designing a boot-wash containment system and a blast mitigation design for an incineration unit’s control room. She’s contributed to the construction of a concrete blast-resistant building and a redesign of an existing structure to safely store and facilitate cleanup of PCB-contaminated metals.
Even with all OF these projects, Greenberg still takes advantage of new learning opportunities to further bolster her skill set.
“As such I’m preparing to sit for the proctored exam as an occupational hygiene and safety technologist. The designation demonstrates the skills and knowledge of a safety professional, and is a stepping stone to someday achieving the level of a certified safety professional. Clean Harbors not only supports this goal, but has recognized it as a personal objective for me,” says Greenberg.
She also keeps learning about the substances Clean Harbors experts may encounter as demand for cleanup and containment evolves.
“Finding more old, hidden and abandoned waste materials is important. I also think we’ll see nuclear waste being a very big issue down the road,” suggests Greenberg. “That waste needs to be carefully processed without impact to anyone or the environment.”
Check out the professional environment at Clean Harbors by logging on to careers.cleanharbors.com, or by following the company on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Wiley Taps Her Experience for American Water
Three years ago the world began hearing about the drinking-water crisis in Flint, MI. Since then several more cities are contending with unhealthy levels of lead in tap water. Unfortunately analysts expect this scenario to become a more common occurrence.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the majority of the 1 million pipes delivering the country’s drinking water has already exceeded - or is about to exceed - the expected lifespan of 75 to 100 years. With aging comes vulnerability for leaks, breaks and contamination.
The state of the country’s water systems forces utilities to address long-term concerns. At American Water, Nicole Wiley, PE has been charged with the daunting task of devising long-term action plans.
“I’m seeing what needs the system will have for the next 15 years. Is the treatment adequate to meet the needs and demand, or will it need upgrades? Are the pipes big enough or do they need upgrades?” asks the senior planning engineer.
American Water, headquartered in Camden, NJ, is a publicly traded water and wastewater utility serving millions throughout the U.S. and Canada.
To make her assessments Wiley draws on her years as a consultant through which she developed a broad knowledge portfolio of system designs and problems.
“I’ve gotten different views of different interests, and I bring that to American Water to help resolve issues,” she says.
But, on occasion, Wiley has been asked to remedy immediate needs, such as guiding an American Water New Jersey plant through a system upgrade.
“I’m the technical resource for the water treatment plant, evaluating new processes and helping to troubleshoot. We’ve also had personnel leaves, so I’ve filled in with operations,” she says.
Wiley’s extensive background and collaboration with other environmental engineers, technicians and operators from different regions has granted her a comprehensive overview of the industry, and she cites climate change as a far-reaching challenge.
“One of the biggest things coming up is scarcity of water in the Southwest and how it impacts water systems,” says Wiley. “Also, systems used to be designed for the 100-year storm, but now those storms come more frequently.”
Technological advances help address some of these issues.
“There are programs for real-time monitoring and visibility to see what’s going on at every stage and gain better control,” she explains. “We’re locating problems in the system, so if we need to turn a valve, we know where it’s located. That makes the process more efficient, and we’re able to collect more data.”
Another impactful development for Wiley has been greater gender diversity within the industry.
“At American Water we have women in the highest leadership positions of the company. It’s a big change seeing women and people of color get into positions of leadership,” comments Wiley. “It opens up different career paths that maybe I didn’t think of before. I see there’s not limit of where I can go.”
Check out the professional environment at American Water by logging on to amwater.com/corp/careers, or by following the company on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
McEvoy Spearheads Capital Projects at SUEZ
The best part of the day for Paula McEvoy, director of engineering for SUEZ’s New York operations, is knowing her efforts helped deliver clean water to thousands of homes that depend on the resource to bathe, cook and drink.
SUEZ is one of the larger water utilities in North America, treating nearly 950 million gallons on a daily basis to serve more than 7 million individuals. The company, with U.S. headquarters in Paramus, NJ, also operates wastewater facilities, treating approximately 835 million gallons on any given day. To ensure uninterrupted flow of safe water, now and in the future, SUEZ has invested in systemic upgrades, including capital projects that McEvoy spearheads.
“Recently we’ve undergone a design improvement at a plant that serves 300,000 customers that hasn’t seen a significant improvement in 15 to 20 years. That will improve the water quality and help us keep up with current water standards,” she notes.
Designing a major overhaul entails so much more than technical specs. For example, weather trends can affect supplies, which, in turn, determine operational capacities.
“Water has become the oil of the 1990s; it is scarce. We’re already stressed and global temperatures are increasing. Droughts will further impact us in years to come,” she states. “Also because supplies are on the water’s edge, as levels rise, we have to make changes to our treatment locations. These are real concerns.”
However, McEvoy believes utilities are positioned to incentivize customers into becoming motivated stakeholders. She also believes social media can be an effective tool in this mission.
“We need conservation and education with the public on how to use water as an essential resource and wisely. We want them to be aware of what is and isn’t in their water, and social media is making the population more aware of what’s going on around them,” says McEvoy.
A diverse workforce also proves advantageous for developing engineering solutions with different approaches from various backgrounds. For McEvoy it’s imperative women are well-represented within a company’s diversity.
“Women bring different perspectives because they have different lives. We want them involved,” she says.
McEvoy also wants to see more women moving up the corporate hierarchy, and appreciates the initiatives SUEZ has established toward that objective, such as sponsoring various educational outlets. In addition to completing a master’s degree, McEvoy has participated in leadership training and communication classes, as well as seminars in accounting for non-accountants.
“Women are underrepresented in the executive suite, in part, because they don’t get a lot of financial training,” she asserts.
There are also opportunities for mentoring, both one-on-one and through the company’s Women in Leadership Network, of which McEvoy has been a member since its inception five years ago.
“I get to meet and encourage women to get the skills needed to grow their careers,” she says. “The purpose is to give women at SUEZ the skill sets to grow in any discipline. We give them that confidence.”
Check out the professional environment at SUEZ by logging on to www.suez-na.com/en-US/Careers, or by following the company on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Veolia North America’s Woelfel Embraces Growth
As soon as Andrea Woelfel walked into the engine room of a ship, she felt at home.
“With the sound of the machines operating and the smell of the oil, I knew it was exactly what I wanted,” she remembers.
Upon graduation from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Woelfel earned a U.S. Coast Guard license and shipped out with the U.S. Merchant Marine.
“After six years I left the sea and came shoreside to become an entry-level engineer at Veolia,” she recalls. “I never envisioned I would take a job shoreside, but I saw an ad about running a power plant, and now I’m managing it. Now I can’t imagine what else I’d want to do.”
Veolia North America, located in Boston, MA, delivers a variety of operational, engineering and technology services focusing on environmental and sustainability concerns in energy, water and waste.
Woelfel is the chief engineer at a cogeneration plant that uses natural gas, and that also captures steam for an additional power source, for a biotechnology client. Although her primary responsibility centers on efficiently delivering power, many decisions revolve around preserving environmental integrity.
“I have to keep up with industry regulations and contracts to make sure we’re always in compliance. It’s a continuous juggling, but the cost of not being in compliance is too high is so many ways,” she explains.
Plus, conservation is a frequent topic with her team.
“We have to be smarter with what power we’re creating, as well as energy storage systems and recycling resources,” says Woelfel.
“We look at resources and how we can use them better. For example, there’s a heavy emphasis here on water reclamation. [In 2018] we saved 3 million gallons of water; that’s a few extra thousand gallons a month, and it didn’t cost us much.”
She continues: “Also, making sure everyone is trained properly is huge. Most things are designed better, but if they are not operated correctly, then they can still cause harm to the environment.”
Of course, Woelfel is committed to advancing her training, too. She’s obtained several technical licenses, and recently finished a master’s degree in facilities management.
“It was a different kind of mindset going to school as an adult with a toddler, but it worked out well. I had people pushing me,” she comments.
Some of those pushing her were mentors at Veolia. She’s found additional encouragement from the Veolia Women in Leadership program, for which she was nominated by superiors.
“Personally it’s great to have a boss who has that kind of faith in me, and who wants to accelerate women in leadership positions,” she says. “We all work in male-dominated fields, and it’s good to hear about other women’s coping mechanisms.”
These exchanges have boosted Woelfel’s confidence, and reaffirmed her commitment to ensuring her crew receives similar backing from her.
“If they put the work in, then I will put in the work for them,” she promises.
Check out the professional environment at Veolia North America by logging on to veolianorthamerica.com/careers, or by following the company on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
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