Earth Day 2017, A personal reflection
Two of the people who I closely associate as professional mentors—former OBG employees Ted Tifft and Stu Spiegel—previously commemorated the 20- and 40-year anniversaries of Earth Day for OBG. Long before I knew them, however, my interest in protecting the environment was shaped by events that occurred during my youth.
The Cuyahoga River fire of 1969. The Love Canal catastrophe in 1977. The Bhopal, India disaster of 1984. These incidents were defining moments in my youth that ultimately influenced my choice of careers. However, if I had to point to a single, seminal moment that most affected my desire for environmental conservation and restoration, it was the early 1970s public service announcement (“Keep America Beautiful”), which featured a Native American chief shedding a tear as trash is thrown out of a moving car and lands at his feet. During this vignette, the announcer said: “People start pollution. People can stop it.” How profound, and still very true today.
Environmental Success at OBG
As environmental professionals, we protect the world’s air quality, watersheds, and lands from contamination, while still allowing for economic growth and prosperity. This is often a delicate balancing act.
At OBG, we have helped our clients solve environmental challenges over the last 70 years, many of which have involved application of state-of-the-art technology or innovation. A small sampling of such projects includes:
- OBG’s applied sciences group was instrumental in avian rescue activities following the Deepwater Horizon petroleum spill of 2010
- OBG’s environmental remediation and natural resources expertise has contributed to the cleanup of Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, NY, in which 2.2 million cubic yards of material have been removed and 2.5 billion gallons of water have been treated
- OBG is at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution, providing engineering and construction services for multiple wind farm, cellulosic ethanol, solar, and anaerobic digester projects
- Responding to a demand for sustainable operations, dozens of colleges and universities have sought OBG’s assistance with developing plans to combat climate change and reduce their carbon footprints
Looking into the future, several environmental challenges will continue to emerge and require the same level of dedication and innovation to solve, including:
- Climate Change: OBG works closely with industrial and institutional clients to address the impact that climate change may have on their operations. By developing resilient and robust systems, OBG helps to protect critical client infrastructure, keeping supply chain activities intact and minimizing the potential for business interruptions.
- Nanomaterials: Nanomaterials in the environment can be difficult to treat and may pose significant threats to human health, particularly as it relates to air pollution. The small size of these materials may allow them to pass between cells, also contributing to ecological impacts.
- Emerging contaminants: Emerging contaminants are most closely associated with wastewater discharges from municipal, agricultural, and industrial sources. Pharmaceuticals, personal care products, endocrine-disrupting compounds, and other organic compounds may represent additional risks upon introduction into the environment. These potential risks need further evaluation and may trigger subsequent regulation.
With each successive generation, there are challenges to overcome, whether they are political, economic, or societal. Those relating to the protection of the environment are no different. As a nation, we have made tremendous strides in reducing the risks that environmental contamination poses:
- Air Quality: Between 1990 and 2015, the national average concentration of lead decreased by 85%. Carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide concentrations reduced by 84% and 67%, respectively.
- Water Quality: In the first 20 years since the Clean Water Act was adopted in 1972, 98% of miles of rivers and streams sustained or improved in quality, and 96% of miles of lakes maintained or improved quality.
- Hazardous Waste: During the 10-year period between 1985 and 1995, the amount of hazardous waste being managed in landfills was reduced from 2.9 million tons to 1.3 million tons. The number of active storage facilities fell from 249 to 68.
At OBG, my colleagues and I are proud of having contributed to these environmental improvements. As my former mentors previously noted, we can reasonably expect that the future will bring a certain amount of excitement and anticipation as we tackle new challenges. It is my hope that future generations will exhibit the same diligence and perseverance in pursuing appropriate solutions to those challenges that our generation has demonstrated.
About Matt Traister: Matthew Traister, PE is a vice president with OBG and the company’s subject matter expert in air quality. A leader of OBG’s National Compliance Practice, Matt has more than 27 years of environmental consulting experience involving air permitting, emission inventory development, and air and odor pollution control design projects. The author of more than 40 technical papers and publications, Matt routinely provides project management and technical oversight functions for complex regulatory compliance programs, including those under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
 Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-...
 Source: Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, America's Clean Water: The States' Evaluation of Progress, 1972-1992, 1999, p. 2.
 Source: The National Biennial RCRA Hazardous Waste Report, EPA (Reports 1987 to 1997).