As I approached the North Carolina Department of Environmental of Quality (NCDEQ ), I inspected my hands. Up until this point in my life, my calloused hands were all I needed to prove that I was qualified for the job. Although I was already in my thirties, this was my first “real” interview. I knew I was going to need more than my hands to land this job. The position was at the NCDEQ within its Superfund section. I was here because my professor had given me the courage to apply.
While the NCDEQ may seem like just another cumbersome regulatory agency, it is really much more. The NCDEQ’s use of public involvement, educational outreach, and application of environmental standards allows it to meet its mission to protect North Carolina’s natural resources, public safety, and current/future energy needs. I was very excited at the chance to become a part of this mission.
At the interview I met with two members of the NCDEQ’s team. My nervousness quickly turned into excitement and giddiness, almost to the point of laughter. After what I would describe as a clumsy interview, I thanked them and walked out of the building thinking of all the things I should have said. Ultimately, what my interviewers saw was not my lack of self-confidence or the sweat beads rolling down my face, but how well NC State had prepared me for the position and my excitement for the field.
In my job with the Superfund section, I’m responsible for identifying disturbances on pre-regulatory landfills and reviewing assessments of inactive hazardous sites. Pre-regulatory landfills are locations where municipal waste was disposed prior to the enactment of legislation requiring permits and site preparation designed to handle waste disposal. Site disturbances or new construction can cause a host of new environmental problems, and approvals should be obtained from NCDEQ prior to beginning new construction at these locations. NCDEQ maintains a large database of environmental assessments on known pre-regulatory sites.
Private entities have access to this information, but are not specifically required to involve NCDEQ or an environmental specialist to assist them in understanding how the assessments apply to their project. An unapproved construction project in Mecklenburg County is a prime example. While digging the foundation for a structure, the contractors ruptured several old drums containing a mixture of oil and gas. The release threatened several surrounding water supply wells and a small stream. Mitigation efforts were essential.
It is very important to keep an eye on these pre-regulatory landfill sites. I review and compile a combination of current satellite imagery, GIS mapping and historical photos to see if there is evidence of site disturbances, which could pose a risk. Once identified, NCDEQ can contact the owner to determine the best way to mitigate risks moving forward.
Similarly, it is important for NCDEQ to keep an eye on sites that have a known history of being polluted with volatile and semi-volatile organics, pesticides, and/or metals. The NCDEQ and environmental consulting firms conduct the initial site assessments. I thoroughly review the written assessments to see if contaminants are above North Carolina Quality Standards. If the contaminants are too high, the site may require annual monitoring and remediation to protect public health.
My work at NCDEQ is in the office, and the callouses on my hands are no longer an indication of how hard I work. It may not sound exciting, but I find it very rewarding. My work provides important information in assessing risks and allows NCDEQ to properly prioritize action items. Being able to immerse myself in reading and analyzing technical reports and sites assessments has helped me hone my technical communication and technical writing skills. It’s like putting a puzzle together. Ultimately, all the measurements and data we collect in the field are useless if we are unable to convey what it all means in a clear, concise and persuasive manner.
My time at the NCDEQ Superfund section helped me confirm my interest in remediation, increased my knowledge of environmental regulations and strengthened my proficiency in technical writing. Whether I ultimately end up with a career in hazardous site evaluation, remediation or developing and navigating environmental regulation, I know I will draw on upon the skills I learned during this internship.