Kelly Supervises Hazardous Waste Clean Up Statewide
Tracy Weston Kelly, who majored in environmental science at UMF, is now project manager for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Uncontrolled Hazardous Substance Sites Program.
In short, Kelly is responsible for overseeing hazardous-waste clean up statewide. In Waterville, for instance, she supervised clean up of the Lewis Wolman Steel Company site, located some 700 feet from an elementary school and abutting several residential backyards. The former metals recovery and recycling facility site (used by kids as a shortcut to school) contained dangerous levels of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a transformer coolant that the federal EPA and the National Cancer Institute deem carcinogenic. Kelly directed all aspects of the $750,000 year-long project, from initial site assessment to the excavation and disposal of 5,000 tons of contaminated soil.
“People want to know how they are being affected, what we’re planning to do and what the health risks are,” says Kelly. “I try to put myself in their shoes. If something toxic were discovered in my neighborhood, I would want to know all the details.”
That’s why she takes a full-disclosure approach with hazardous substance discoveries. She may begin a site investigation by using an x-ray fluorescence machine to detect trace metals and a photoionization detector to assess levels of volatile organic compounds. But her focus on parts-per-million soon shifts to people—and telling them everything they need to know.
“Some people are reluctant to attend public meetings, so I sit down with them at the kitchen table with a geologist and toxicologist to explain in lay terms what the risks are and what’s going to happen in their neighborhood,” she says. “You have to have that personal contact because they have every right to know, and they have every right to refuse you entry to the home for air-quality or water sampling.”
As she typically conducts six site investigations per year, there isn’t much Kelly doesn’t know about the presence of hazardous substances statewide—and even in her own body. (Annual agency-mandated blood tests make sure she doesn’t take her work—in the form of metals, pesticides and PCBs— home with her.) Although the risks associated with long-term, on-the-job exposure are real, Kelly isn’t concerned about her own health.
“Because I know what’s out there and what it can do, I can take precautions to limit my contact with dangerous substances,” she says. “I’m far more concerned about the wellbeing of people who don’t know, like those children who used the Wolman site as a shortcut to school. I really don’t see myself as making any sacrifices with my own safety. If I am, the environment and public health are worth it.”
-- By Marc Glass, managing editor of the UMF alumni magazine.