Environmental Scientist. Writer. Mother.

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Hoosick PFOA Numbers

Confessions of a Former Environmental Regulator

How many times did I sit at my desk and worry about something I had missed, maybe a report I hadn’t read closely enough, or a number in a table that hadn’t been highlighted when compared against the standards? How many times did I go home after work and boil water to make the pasta, or run the faucet to mix the Gerber cereal I would spoon into my daughter’s eager mouth, and how many times did I feel that twinge in my chest — the kind that you worry about when it happens more than once— thinking that some other family in some other town which fell under the scope of my responsibility was probably doing the exact same thing that I was doing, except for them, drinking water had become a danger because of something I had missed? How many times did I feel that knot in the connective tissue between my heart and my gut and try to will it away, inviting my cold, rational mind to scold the softer parts of myself?  Stop it, just stop it, stop worrying so much — there’s only so much you can do because you can only know the information you are given, and these are the same people who pump gas into their cars and breathe the fumes while they check their phones, who consume processed foods and sugary sodas and smoke cigarettes in the car while their children are sitting in the back. You comfort yourself with the thought that they might not wear their seat belts all the time, that they put themselves and their families in greater danger than what you are obsessing about right now, because this is what you do to avoid the gravitational pull of the rabbit hole. If you’re honest, you’ll admit that the body learns to shrink back from all the scolding, learns to rationalize the hardening of that soft tissue, begins to callous from the pile of reports that keeps growing on your desk — the reports with all the data and the evidence of what’s safe.



Photo credit: Nathaniel Brooks for the New York Times


About Mary Heather

I am an East-coaster and a West-coaster. I am an academic and a creative spirit. I am an environmental scientist who always wanted to write, and a writer with a nagging nostalgia for the complexities of environmental science. Above all, I am a mother — so whether I’m writing about the natural world, family, or place, I like to consider my work as environmental advocacy in the broadest sense.


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