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by Steve Wing



I stumbled into it.  My sister’s friend had been dating this Environmental Engineer who needed somebody part-time, and I needed something part-time, so I said, What the hell?

This was late in 1991, and Pierrette and I and baby Emily had just moved to Spokane.

So I paid the guy a visit – I flew the green flag when I could, though I wasn’t all that sure what Environmental Engineers actually did.  Did they carve meanders back into the courses of rivers?  Could they plant the gaping grave of a pit mine with roses and daisies? And then the guy started talking about marketing, and I said to myself, well, maybe with some judicious wriggling, I could handle marketing.

When I mentioned I’d done a bit of writing, the conversation turned, and after a while the guy – the Guy – told me of his urgent need for someone to go off to the Spokane Public Library to look up historical data about a certain property. And to maybe write the historical data into a report? And maybe also write up the notes provided by the Site Visitor, Doug, who had actually, physically, been there on the property?



And so it began, my job with the Guy Group. The Guy was innovative. He once explored the idea of purchasing a rock band’s fog machine for indoor air circulation investigations. Now he was paying me to go to the library. Well, the library and other places, to look at maps and stuff.

The first map I gave serious attention to at the Library was in the 1934 Metsker’s Atlas of Yakima County, a map for – what was it? – the Blodgett Property? The Blodgett Property on the Yakima River, where the wheat fields fringe into apple-and-wine country, now. I was told we were doing a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment – an ESA – and we were supposed to determine the earliest developed use of this property. My job was to look at records, and document my looking.

So I looked, and saw no signs of development, and I wrote that down. And since the Site Visitor had looked at the property, too, and had found no evidence of an Environmental Liability, we could then say we’d done our Due Diligence on behalf of the Client. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that the patchworked properties on the Map were marked with interesting names: Leonard Funch… Clay Barn… Gaylord Freepons… Fidel E. Nunez… Billy Gene Phelps… Manly Shook… Benny Rocha….

Round, ripe seedful names such as these are seldom found and cannot be invented.  So wrote William Gass about the names he once collected in the hope that stories would suddenly shower out like dimes.

Sounded good. And I started collecting names, writing them down in the back of my work notebook, a classic Elan E64 Field Book, water resistant, easy to carry, and with a High Visibility Orange cover. This became a pattern: I’d jot down my job data in the front of the Elan – the first of many Elans– and in the back I’d make notes about whatever else I felt like making notes about.

Not so many stories showered forth, but the names had been there on the map: Guen Hermance… Harriet Hosko… Harland Knight… Wyatt Cone… Leonard Goodnight…. And across the river rose the Horse Heaven Hills….


I had this tendency to write things. Once, during my single days, right before a young woman I was wooing left for a vacation in Oregon, I gave her a care package, a little paper sack of fortune cookies. Beforehand, I’d carefully tweezered the original fortunes out of their crispy shells and replaced them with limericks of my own device, these wry little poems all about her.  I know I wrote at least five limericks, but could I have written as many as ten? I don’t think so, but I was obsessive about things like that in those days. In any event, I was pretty well pleased with the project, though it didn’t do the trick, wooing-wise.

When I started courting Pierrette, writing had become more of an early move than a last resort. We hadn’t known each other long when I offered her one of my moderately published writings, a semi-polished semiprecious pebble, maybe in the way a stray cat tries to charm a favored human with the gift of a dead mouse. And maybe it worked – or maybe it was the pasta with walnut sauce. Or the white chocolate brownies.

I made a little – very little – money with some of my early writings, with essays about Ireland, about childhood games, about the weather in Seattle. I wrote a pamphlet advertising a Death Penalty Seminar for defense attorneys. Another time I worked on another pamphlet, a user’s guide for an add-a-pearl necklace kit starring Freshwater Baroques.

And then writing helped me score my Green Job.



Pierrette and I had been aiming for part-time work so we could do split-shifts, tag team parenting. And it worked.  Pierrette was with the kids, Emily, and soon enough Julia, in the morning, while I was doing my research for the Guy Group, and she did her Physical Therapist work in the afternoon when I was with the kids.

I changed thousands of diapers, made thousands of kid meals. Sometimes I had to improvise. One day when they wanted me to make pancakes, I had to hustle to the bookshelf and come back to the kitchen with a finger marking the spot where Nick Adams makes breakfast in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River.” I mixed and poured the batter and glanced at the story and compared what was happening in my skillet with what was happening in Nick’s, the way the edges of his “cake began to firm, then brown, then crisp. The surface was bubbling slowly to porousness.” When Nick shook his skillet and flipped his cake, I did the same with mine.



On another day, Emily came home with a question. Maybe they’d been talking careers in second grade, but she’d been thinking. She was concerned:



“What did you grow up to be?”

Someone who looks up stuff for the Guy. And puts the stuff into reports.

I’d never been a professional. I’d attended the University of Montana, and had earned a bunch more credits than I needed to graduate, but those credits were far too whimsically arranged to add up to anything. So, making an actual living turned out to be tricky, but by the time I started at the Guy Group, I’d pretty much settled into office work. I could process words.  I could enter data.  I could whip out a clean, precise business letter, stern or ingratiating, as the case required. I was a known File Diver and General Purpose Cratchit.  An Administrative Assistant. Once, an Operations Liasson Auditor. At least, that’s what one particular boss and I decided would look good on my résumé, on my last day on that job.




I worked for the Guy Group for quite a while. I dove into writing and re-writing the Environmental Site Assessment reports that crossed my desk, tweaking and tuning and streamlining.

Because why not say, “It was flat around there,” rather than, as one of my colleagues wrote, “The topography of the immediate vicinity of the subject property was physically observed to appear generally flat and level?”

And there had to be a cleaner way of explaining why the report needed historical stuff than, “The objective of reviewing historical resources in reference to the subject property is to formulate an overview of the previous uses in order to help determine whether or not the uses would lead to a Recognized Environmental Condition in connection with the subject property.”

              Still, doing one of these reports was like putting together a puzzle, and sometimes you had to weave in the required boilerplate legal language, technical standards, and scientific terms.

At the Wing house in those days, we were learning new ways with words. Pierrette came home from the PT clinic talking about lymphedema and vertigo. Emily once looked out the window and announced, “There’s just a theme of ladybugs out there.” One day four-year-old Julia came up to me with a fierce look on her face. She wasn’t so much mad at me, I think, as interested in trying out choice bits of invective, in slinging a few riffs: You motorcycle spit! Butter soaper! Container! You snotty ham-hack! 

But with the stuff I was learning, I could dish it right back at her: You Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbon!



I’d roll off to the Library for the Metsker’s Maps, and the Sanborn Maps, too, or over to Libby Photography to check out their aerial photograph collection. But we also had a trove of maps in the office, U.S. Geological Survey Topo Maps, highway maps, aquifer maps, plat maps, geological maps, and the maps and aerials in our Soil Conservation Service Survey Books.  Sometimes we made our own maps, of plants in wetland areas, or of the proximity of hazardous sites to particular properties.

After a while, after reviewing map after map, I noticed something. Whenever I located a subject property on a given map of whatever sort, as I determined the various natures of the surrounding properties, these quick, barely perceptible, colors would sometimes flit through my brain.

The East seemed to be a brassy smear of sunrise with striations of strident gray.

The West was a clean and fiery red, a sunset that could hold liquids, with long skinny shadows reaching towards the viewer.

The South was more of a hazy, curvaceous orange, ticklish and careless with heat and soft yellow puddles.

The North was bracing, a wave of an almost lush grey, deepening to blue-black. There were mothwing flakes of white and a surprising touch of iron green.




From another list in the back pages: John D. McDonald referred to Death as the Green Ripper. For Henry James, Death was the Distinguished Thing, and for William Ernest Henley, the Ruffian on the Stair. Tchaikovsky called Death the Snub-Nosed Horror.  John Irving talked about the Undertoad, and then there was the Man in the Bright Nightgown, from W.C. Fields.  One day while cruising the glossary of the Environmental Engineering Dictionary (C. Lee, Ph.D. – 2nd Edition), I came across another definition: “Death means the lack of reaction of a test organism to gently prodding.”

Hmmm. Well, that was a view. Turned out the term in this case had something to do with brine shrimp and toxicity tests.  Still….



Maybe we didn’t always do the best job of explaining to Clients and other interested parties what we were trying to do with our various projects.  In Moses Lake, my colleague Doug was interviewed by a reporter while he was ramrodding the landfarming of a pile of petroleum-contaminated soil. The idea with landfarming is that you periodically turn over and aerate the soil, to accelerate the biodegradation of the contaminants, but during the interview, Doug must have referred to the microorganisms involved as “bugs.”  Anyway, the story in the newspaper explained that Doug planned to handle the situation by releasing petroleum-eating insects that would later be captured and killed.





It’s hard to explain to lay people the affection that Environmental Consultants sometimes have for USDA Soil Conservation Service Survey Books.  It’s like telling someone why you like jazz.

There were sound technical reasons for referring to the soil books in our work, because drainage and permeability and infiltration rates and water holding capacity and the depth to the water table were good things to know when considering the potential migration of contaminants.  Plus, the books sometimes had old aerial photos that made good references.

As a bonus, the Soil Conservation Service had come up with these admirably musical names for the soils. There was the Jughandle Variant and the Nicodemus Variant, the Ritzville Association and the Lawyer-Tannahill Association. I wrote reports that considered the very rocky Dragoon complex, the coarse sandy Bong-and-Phoebe, and a couple of silty loams, both Brickle and Cocalalla. I mulled over the Smackout loam, the Zen silt loam and the very cobbly Lickskillet loam. You could keep on going with the classifications, by the way. The Zaza loam was well drained and moderately permeable, and formed of weathered basalt mixed with loess. The Santa Variant was a coarse-silty, mixed, frigid Fragic Haploxeralf. Now the Shebang silt loam happened to be a fine smectitic mesic Xeric Argialboll. Question: was it or was it not montmorillonic?



As I’ve said, I didn’t consider the work I was doing as actually engaging in some sort of profession – I tended to sleepwalk through it too much for that, the more so as the years wore on.

But I did like that sense of arcane knowledge, of being all boned up on X, keyed in on shop talk and backstage bandy-about. Sometimes, I almost felt like the scholar I’d imagined I could have been in college, as I pored over the names of previous owners on the Maps, or in the City of Spokane Polk’s Directories, as I searched for evidence of drycleaners or foundries or electroplaters on a given property. And as I scribbled seedful names into the back of my current Elan: Columbus Quesenberry… Jennifer Elf… Prince Trihub… Freelove Baskette…  Antoinette Fantasia…. I found ambiguous names: Euphemia McGregor… Tenal Fractious… Exilda Stonestreet….   And alliterative names:  Pepper P. Pendleton… Brandy Beanblossom… Even heroic names: Buzz Bloodgood… Robert Goodspeed … Tina Broadsword….  Rex Rainbolt…  Ace Earthman… (Actually, I met Ace at a party one night).

Or like a detective. A literary detective, anyway. I never shadowed anyone, and no one bonked me on the head, but I’d do leg work. I’d check sources. I’d inspect dim archives and sneezy files in the backrooms and vaults of the County Auditor’s Office or the City Building Permit Department or the Fire Department.

Or I’d go to Pioneer Title, a private company that as a courtesy let guys like me look at the Tract Books. Now the Tract books were huge, what they called elephant folios, and they could have been bound in elephant hide, or some such thick and crackly old leather. Some of them were over 100 years old. Still, they were used all the time, with the searchers leaning on the counters – do I actually remember a brass rail? – as they fanned through pages the color of tea and with the aroma of cheese, checking for quit claim deeds and warranty deeds, covenants and easements and lawsuits, and boundary disputes and tax delinquency and sheer cussed chicanery.  Environmental consultants had to look at these things in a green light, of course.

In a way, my visits and those of the other searchers were just last hurrahs before Internet fever changed title research forever. I do hope the Tract Books survived. They were tough books, and maybe they’re in some crypt deep below Pioneer Title. The properties themselves, now, they certainly abide, though the people involved come and go, like a crop.  Or maybe we could view money as the crop, and people as “no more than the compost in which dollars grow, ripen, fall, and grow again” (Tom Disch).

One day in one of the books, I came across the story of Myrtle who’d been declared insane, and her husband appointed guardian of her affairs. This husband, a certain Charles, purchased on Myrtle’s behalf, presumably with Myrtle’s money, Lots 1 and 2 of the Huckleberry Addition. Later, again on Myrtle’s behalf, Charles sold Lots 1 and 2 to a woman named Jeanne. Then Charles went ahead and divorced Myrtle. I knew this because Lots 1 and 2 were mentioned in the divorce settlement: Myrtle, or her lawyer, fought for the Lots, but it was too late. Next thing I knew, Charles married Jeanne and all transactions involving the Lots thereafter were carried out by Charles. Appalling. I looked around the big busy room, wishing I knew someone well enough to roll my eyes with. But it was a serious place, people were working. For example, I was supposed to be looking for an old gas station.

But I later wondered if anyone had ever written an environmental murder mystery? A Study in Green, they could have called it. Or if they wanted to go hard-boiled, The Long Green (since money was involved) with a sleuth like Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade or Lew Archer.

Or maybe the sleuth could have been Jack Hazard, this Spokane P.I. I’d discovered in one of the old Polk’s Directories. Or maybe Dashiell Hammett himself, who’d worked as a detective in Spokane for six or seven months in 1920, as a Pinkerton. But despite a diligent investigation, I never could find him.


I didn’t write A Study in Green, but I snatched random chunks of time to write a Young Adult Novel, The Legend of Vanilla Godzilla. Just taking another shot at making money. When my kids themselves were young adults. More or less. I had hopes of Vanilla Godzilla catching on with some agent, and then with some publisher, and then maybe with someone who’d take a movie flyer on the thing. And give me money. Which we could always use. But I never received the least nibble from an agent, and the manuscript is in a filing cabinet somewhere in the basement. However, I did get paid a couple hundred bucks for writing a freelance environmental article called Vapor Intrusion / Vapor Encroachment: A Look at ASTM’s New Standard Guide.

I entered the “Describe the Perfect Pint of Guinness” contest. Maybe I could win a pub in Ireland. And then I could sell the pub, for money, and that would be good. I imagined that to win an Irish pub you had to pour on the poetry. I imagined being inside the pub, with weather at the window, soft as gauze, while I sat listening to the fire’s glimmering applause. And then when someone arrived with the Pint, I’d describe the crown of smoky snow and the last dark ruby drop down below, and conclude that by the time we find the Perfect Guinness… it’s in us.

I didn’t win. Maybe they saw through me, and could tell I’d never liked Guinness, never.



Things kept happening in the industry – there were the random, everyday layoffs, and then the dot-com bubble and after that the Great Recession – and so my little green niche pretty much disappeared. You could say that the Internet got me. And/or the electronic re-engineering of Finding Things Out.  Regulatory agency searches, historical research, and chain-of-title examinations now tended to be outsourced to specialized information services that sometimes delivered these gigantic data packages that with documentation could run to 400, 500 pages, when printed out, and we had to print them out.  Sometimes it seemed that these services operated under the theory whoever came up with the heaviest report would be the winner. Sometimes in defense, we touted local knowledge as a selling point, with the idea that the technoplasmic tendrils had only reached so far, so far. But the handwriting was on the wall, and I was sixty years old.

So I started writing résumés, office work résumés, environmental research résumés, résumés so diffuse and general there was a chance that whoever read them might be led to assume I could do practically anything. And I was networking and looking at want ads and bulletin boards, the kind of things you do,

Then it turned out that after my long marination in the industry– and after I raised my game with training – I just might be qualified to be an actual full-time Environmental Professional. The idea was that I’d learn to do site visits myself, rather than just making my standard ESA research moves while contemplating the ghosts of properties on maps or in books or in files. And, anyway, college – and retirement, hopefully – were on the horizon.

So I did it, became an Environmental Professional. They gave me a Certificate that said this was so. Sometimes I felt I’d received the Certificate in much the way that, instead of an actual heart, the Tin Woodman was awarded a ticking, heart-shaped Testimonial on a chain.

On my first solo site visit, I asked a guy a question about some process or other, and he shrugged and said, “You’re the expert.”





I took AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) training because I had to know where asbestos might possibly be in a given structure, and sometimes I’d have to take samples of suspect materials and send them to labs. I’d end up taking all sorts of other samples, of earth and air and water, for my upgraded job, but nothing made me as nervous as taking asbestos samples.

But asbestos really was and is a wonder. Legend had it – our AHERA instructor said – that Charlemagne had a tablecloth woven of asbestos.  After a bacchanal, they’d just throw the tablecloth into a roaring fire to burn away the stains, all the party impurities. They’d fish the thing out when it was clean and bright and ready to boogie again.

Beyond that, beyond being a famously spinnable, weavable and unburnable mineral, asbestos is flexible, light and stable. Asbestos can absorb and filter, is a great heat insulator, and has low electrical conductivity. Asbestos is stronger than steel and practicably indestructible – and murderously hazardous. Those marvelously fine fibers? Finer than a human hair, and capable of shredding into even finer fibers, fine enough to remain suspended 72 hours in still air?  Our instructor said, Those fibers are uncoughable. That scary word remained with me. You can’t cough up the fibers, and if you do come down with asbestosis, you can’t cough up the inflammation and the scars.  And you can’t cough up tumors.

So I had this fear that never really left me (and maybe that was a good thing) when the time came for me to take samples myself.  I wondered, Have I sampled everything that needed to be sampled?  Could something dreadful be hidden deep in the bowels of a structure?

And over the years, they’d put asbestos in so many materials.  One estimate said it had been used, to one degree or another, in 3,000 different products. The prize, though, probably went to Kent Cigarettes and their famous micronite filter of the 1950s. Micronite!  When I was a kid, when I saw the ads on TV, I had to wonder if micronite was somehow related to kryptonite, except that upon exposure, Superman would just grow smaller and smaller and smaller, a la The Incredible Shrinking Man. And remember, these were Kent cigarettes. Were they trying to establish a connection with Clark Kent? (And I’d heard that smoking stunted your growth, was that a connection?)

But we learned in AHERA class that Kent’s micronite filter had been manufactured with crocidolite blue asbestos, the worst of the worst.  So when you smoked Kents, these forever fibers, those indestructible fibers that would never come out of the lungs – uncoughable, remember? – would get coated in carcinogens on their way in.

So what else is there to say about that?



So I started ranging out of the office for a company called Blue Mountain, all over the Northwest, all day, doing site visits, and sometimes visiting libraries for that local knowledge.  After a few site visits, I got the feeling I could walk in and wander around anywhere with a hard hat, a clipboard, a camera, and maybe one of those orange or green fluorescent vests, and nobody would ask questions. Oh, and if anybody happened to be in a mood to scrutinize, I could point out my steel-toed boots. To really impress someone – impress them into a panic, maybe – I could don my handy respirator mask.  Or, to get the language right, my elastomeric full facepiece respirator.

I never did wear end up wearing it on a job, though I’d passed my fit test.  For that, I’d recited the Gettysburg Address while wearing the mask while a guy waved around a vial of banana oil (isoamyl acetate). I was supposed to tell him if I could smell it.

On a site, I’d walk around and search for telltale signs, stains, residues, corrosion, odors, distressed vegetation. I’d look for drains and pits and wells and drums and tanks. I’d collect the questionnaire I’d sent out previously, I’d do interviews. Eventually, it seemed to me I could capsulize what I needed to know simply enough: How does the hazardous stuff, if any, come onto this property, what does it do on this property, if anything, and how does it ever leave, if it ever does?  Might something be left behind? Or had something been left behind long ago? And just how hazardous are we talking here?

The one thing I truly did become an expert at was running my stuff past Blue Mountain’s German engineer, a kind, courtly man who gave everybody’s work careful attention all week. On the weekends, he liked to race off to Portland in his Mercedes, roaring around the curves of the Columbia Gorge at 90 miles an hour.



The Guy Group once did an Environmental Site Assessment of a former casket factory in a neighborhood known as Peaceful Valley. Over the years, I worked on assessments of a prosthetics clinic and a former chicken hatchery. And at a battleground near Stites, Idaho, where the Nez Perce had skirmished with the United States Army. There was that Nike missile site that someone wanted to turn into a home.  I did an abandoned drive-in theater in Wenatchee, and a ranch up in the Grand Coulee country.  There were plenty of offices and dozens of cell tower sites.  We assessed cranberry bogs and a grass seed research facility. I remember visiting an onion processing plant a warehouse holding ten million pounds of potatoes.  We did car washes and auto lube joints and junk yards and thrift shops. Churches and lumberyards and steam plants.  Gravel pits and golf courses.  I checked out a spa and a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Sometimes when I was off-duty, I’d drive past some of these properties. and feel sort of in the know. Almost… proprietary. Affectionate?  Anyway, I knew a few things about these places. I’d been behind the scenes.



With Blue Mountain, I had my traveling routine down. I’d buy a giant mocha from some random roadside shop, tuck the lumbar roll Pierrette had whipped up for me into the chronically sore spot in my lower left back, crank up the AC, then head down the highway with my soundtrack. Usually, I’d tune in whatever rock and roll station I could find and just let it blast away. Once in an exceptionally isolated canyon in Idaho, all I could get on the radio was a Ladies Bible Study program, and believe me, these ladies were not dynamic. On another day in central Washington, I listened to Mexican hip hop for a couple of hours. Those guys were dynamic, but I could never find that station again.

I ranged farther and farther from home, and I still found names in the libraries when I was on the hunt for local knowledge, on the Maps, in the Directories. I found one favorite in Cashmere, WA, a Mrs. America Newberry. She lived on Pleasant Avenue.

For certain complicated trips, getting home by nightfall wasn’t always a sure thing, and I’d have to cast around for a roadside motel. I remember pushing too hard too late at night, and biting my knuckles to keep alert, hard enough to make an impression in my skin, hard enough to convert pain energy into driving vigilance, though not hard enough to draw blood.

Once I slid off the highway into a rest area so icy the car twirled all the way across the parking lot. Once the weather was so foggy, I missed my exit on the way home. Then there was the time I climbed out of mellow, partly sunny Lewiston, Idaho, rising 2,000 feet to the rim of the Clearwater Canyon to hit U.S. Route 95, and drove straight into the heart of a Palouse blizzard.



Someone at the Guy Group had once run an environmental program in the Air Force. One day for a training exercise, he’d issued each member of his team a Geiger counter, and told them to find a low-radioactivity source he’d hidden somewhere on the base. Then he went back to his office to do paper work and occasionally contemplate the low-radioactivity source, waiting right there on his desk.  The morning wore on and no one showed up at his door, so he went looking. Finally, he found his people down at the baseball field, counters clicking away. Something hotter than anything else around was buried below the pitcher’s mound, and absolutely nobody knew anything about it. He could find no records. Well, the military was notoriously messy, we all knew that.

Then there was that guy in Spokane who ran a hazardous waste disposal company. Now you can take care of hazardous wastes a number of ways: you can process and recycle, you can incinerate (at a very high temperature, with oxygen), you can pyrolyze (at pretty much the same temperature, without oxygen), you can make various stabs at ways of sequestering the wastes forever. You could even vitrify the wastes, turn them into glass, at least a kind of glass.  This guy streamlined the whole business by simply taking away every bit of the hazardous material people were paying him to remove, and then heading back to headquarters and dumping everything down a dry well.  God knows what strange transmutations were steaming and burbling down there by the time he was finally busted.

And everybody had heard stories about clients mainly interested in what they could get away with, and if you didn’t deliver on the wink-wink, nudge-nudge, they’d let you know they were shopping around.  And maybe they’d choose the guy who was suspected of doing the occasional drive-by Assessment: “Hey, it looked good from the car window.”

Of course, there’s potential for abuse in everything, but the people I knew in the industry were straight shooters. Sometimes, though, I wondered about some of the straight shooting we did. How green was it for me to drive over 300 miles to a Conoco bulk plant in Helena, Montana to hand an air sample pump to a guy who’d masked up so he could place the pump in the center of a giant empty tank? Two hours later, the guy handed the pump back to me, whereupon I drove to Fed Ex so I could send the sample cartridges to a lab, before heading back to Spokane.

Did it help to save the world by bringing bad news to someone who’d already figured out his wafer-thin margin for buying a pizza parlor in Wenatchee before his bank told him to hire somebody who just might bring him bad news?  (So many times, it was a bank pushing these things.)  What if someone like me found an obscure mention of an underground tank on the pizza property in a City Public Works file, as I did?  Then we had to hire a Ground-Penetrating Radar specialist to check for the possible tank (the guy told us he was fresh from searching for the grave of a murder victim in a field in North Dakota).  Then we planned a drilling and sampling program. How wafery can a wafer-thin margin get?

At about the same time, Dupont was getting away with contaminating the drinking water of millions with PFAs.

Sometimes, I batted these questions back and forth with colleagues. Sometimes, we wondered about the whole regulation-fueled, lawyer-driven process we found ourselves caught up. Were we making a net positive difference, or were we spitting into the wind? Were the locations we were looking at simply too, well, local?  Were we all too caught up in particular places while all around in the greater world, sly poisons were infiltrating subtle pathways? The Guy had once said that when he first studied Environmental Engineering, one of his teachers proclaimed, Dilution is the solution to pollution. But what if dilution was failing us? What if dilution had nowhere to go after a while, and started backing up into saturation instead? What if we were spitting into a hurricane?

We were doing stuff that needed to be done, but nobody was talking about carbon dioxide.



Before I could officially retire, one last urgent project slid in under the wire, and so I found myself driving from Spokane to Moses Lake to pick up a water sampling kit, and then heading off to Quincy and beyond to take twelve water samples and to do three Environmental Site Assessments at five apple and cherry orchards, and then cruising down to Othello to drop off eight water samples at a lab there, and then returning to Moses Lake to Fed-Ex the four final water samples to another lab in Redmond, and then barreling back to Spokane, after rolling up over 400 miles. Yes, it was a very long day.

But I remember driving down the highway thinking I was almost done, with that day, with my green job. At my home office, I’d put together my report, finishing it off with one of the standard boilerplate conclusions: Property inspection, interviews, historical review, and review of the Environmental Database, revealed no potential environmental risks, recognized environmental conditions, or other environmental hazards. Or, if I decided there really was something to flag, This site may be characterized as a moderate to serious risk of an existing release, a past release, or a material threat of a release of hazardous materials to the environment.  

            Or maybe I’d just write what I’d always wanted to write for a last hurrah, Seems to me this site is hazardous enough to knock a buzzard off a gut wagon.

At home, I’d shred my remaining business cards into confetti, but until then I was driving, driving, driving, with the sun already down.

But I can practically see the lights in the windows, Kitty Spangle and Danny Bonebright, Zelma Shining and Hall Moonbeam.  We’re almost there, Glinda Freelinger.  Just about, Jim Sincere and Harry Tranquil and June Sleep ….


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