Category: Environmental Articles

By Stan Linhors syracuse.com

Joella Viscusi is founder, owner, and president of Ambient Environmental Inc.

Ambient, headquartered in Albany, provides comprehensive environmental, health and safety solutions related to hazardous building materials management; industrial hygiene, site safety, site investigation, remediation, and restoration; and regulatory compliance.

Viscusi said the company is broadening its environmental and construction services and expanding throughout Upstate.

Tell me about growing up and early leadership roles.  

I grew up in a small town called Charlton, which is out past Burnt Hills toward Galway. It’s cow country. (Laughs) It’s in Saratoga County. I grew up between two big farms.My parents (Joan and Tony Viscusi) were a big influence. My mom, for the most part, was a stay-at-home mom. I looked to her as a role model. My father worked to provide for our family. They gave us good morals and direction – work hard and you can do what you aspire to do.

From the time I could speak, my Uncle Bob (Arsenault) said I always told him I was the boss. Uncle Bob was a big influence. I always looked up to him. I always listened to what he had to say. When I told him I was the boss, he said I can be whatever I want to be. That stuck with me, and here I am – I’m the boss.

What advice would you give someone to be a good leader?  

A good leader leads by example and not just with words. They have the ability to set a vision and inspire others. They have walked their talk.

I’ve been in the field and done the work. I’ve been in the crawl spaces. I’ve been on the rooftops. I’ve taken the samples. When I’m describing to somebody how I want a particular project done, they trust me, because I’ve done it. I’m not just reading it out of a textbook.

To be an effective leader, you have to know your industry. I did and still do a lot of reading on my own. You keep learning.

Have an open-door policy. People can come and ask me anything. I’m not one of those owners or bosses that keeps the door shut and stays behind a closed door. I’m there with the employees. They’re welcome to ask me questions whenever they want – I want them to ask questions. I don’t give the impression that they’re bothering me. An open door inspires people to want to do a good job.

How does that inspire?  

Oh gosh, I mean – I think it makes them feel comfortable, and I think they know they have the respect of the leader.

I don’t make rash decisions. I talk to the team, and I ask what they think. Their opinions matter. Their knowledge matters. What they think about the next steps of the company matters. I take what they say into consideration. I try to make their job easier.

It makes them want to be part of the team. It makes them want to give their opinions and experiences. They’re out in the field every day, so bring back to me what you’re seeing. What do you want changed? What are you having difficulty with?

As an entrepreneur, starting with no employees, you had your hands on everything. As a company grows, how does a leader shift from doing the work herself to delegating and trusting others to do the work?  

I had to learn. As the person who owned the company, I thought that you had to know everything and you had to do everything and you had to be successful at everything for your company to be successful.

Through some of the groups I belong to, especially the Women Presidents Organization, we discuss our business issues. That allowed me to open up and say: I’m drowning here. It’s hard for me to do everything now. We’re getting bigger.

I learned to allow other people in to help. For instance, I’m not great at the financial aspect of it. But I’ve now brought people in who are.

Asking for help is not a sign of failure; it is a sign of success.

What qualities do you see in effective leadership and leaders you admire? 

My biggest thing is honesty. The leader has to be true and genuine. That to me is the most important quality. You can teach technical expertise, but you can’t teach someone to be a better person. So, honesty, being genuine, being your authentic self are important in a leader.

Good leaders have deep expert knowledge of their particular industry, but they know when they’re not an expert in a particular arena. They allow someone in for help. To me, a leader doesn’t lie and doesn’t fake it. A leader will admit: I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m going to find it out for you.

A leader doesn’t just make something up. They are true and genuine.

When you think of an ineffective leader, what attributes do you see? 

A non-communicator. Someone who doesn’t listen, who doesn’t allow people to give feedback. Someone who has a closed-door policy, who’s not willing to listen to their team, not willing to take the information from out in the field, to bring it back to the table.

A poor leader says: I don’t care if it’s right or wrong, this is the way I want it done. They lose respect of employees.

You’ve got to listen to your team. You’ve got to take it all in. If you don’t, if you’re being a dictator, that’s not being a leader.

What makes a person a dictator?  

It sounds redundant: Someone who is not willing to listen to what you have to say, someone who just wants it done their way.

Tell me about a challenge you’ve had and how you overcame it, so we can learn from your experience.  

By far, the biggest thing is being a woman in this industry.

Your company is in a male-dominated field?  

It is – very much so.

Starting out in this field, there was a lot to overcome. The remarks on a job site. The snide remarks on why I won a bid and someone else didn’t. The jokes: Oh, you’re just here to make the coffee. It was tough to keep going back, meeting after meeting, when you knew they were going to say: What’s Joella wearing to the meeting?

It was hard to overcome, and it was hard to keep going back. I felt I had to prove myself much more than a man did. That was discouraging, because I had more knowledge than my co-workers at the time.

How did you overcome the sexism and stereotyping?

Knowledge. Proving that I knew what I was doing. And the fact that I actually did the work. When I worked for other people, they said I couldn’t go to at meeting alone. They said: You’re not a man. It’s going to be nothing but 20 contractors in there.

I made sure I was fully prepared for any meeting, that I knew the answer to every question they could potentially ask.

Tell me about starting in this field.  

My degree is in marketing. I started at an environmental company as an administrative assistant, answering phones, filing. It was a small company, so everybody helped out in different departments. I’d go out in the field with the guys, and I’d take the notes, and carry the samples. I started putting the reports together for all the fieldwork that was done. The amount of regulations around hazardous materials was intriguing. It may sound weird, but it was interesting to me.

The boss that I had at the time allowed me to go to the classes that he taught, but would never certify me in anything because my place was taking notes and being a secretary and answering phones. I was told that many times by many different people. That just gave me the ambition to keep moving forward and say: Well, I can do this. You can’t tell me I can’t do this because my uncle said I can do it. He said I could be the boss. (Laughs)

I spent many nights reading regulations. At meetings, I would be able to give an answer when others could not. One of the guys always had to go a meeting with me. That being said, when the guys were asked a question, they would turn to me and say: Hey, Joella, what do you think about that? I’d give the answer.

Slowly but surely, the respect in the industry came. I knew what I was doing. My roles expanded. My titles expanded. A lot of this self-taught information led me to start my own company.

What advice would you give a woman who wants to start her own business in a male-dominated industry?  

If that’s what you want to do, then just do it. You have to ignore the comments. You have to ignore the remarks that you can’t do it. You have to look people in the eye when you give them an answer or direct them on a project.

I could have given up very easily when I was told, straight out, you don’t belong here.

I don’t want that to discourage people. I want to get the point across: You are going to have a lot of things throughout your career that are just going to make you want to curl up in a little ball and throw your hands up and say, I’m done.

Above all, act confident. You gain respect. I’ve built a lot of respect in the industry now.

And I’m enjoying it.

By Maryann Zafar | The Cornell Daily Sun | April 11, 2018 -In 2000 – Cornell University sold a plot of land to the City of Ithaca for one dollar. This plot of land — the Ithaca Falls and Gorge Trail region —  has now cost the City millions in cleanup as high levels of lead contamination have been found there again and again.

The purchased land, according to The Ithaca Times, has long been a site for lead dumping. The source of the lead pollution is the Ithaca Gun Company’s now-abandoned factory on East Hill, which manufactured weapons until 1986, according to its website.

The factory dumped lead waste from production, which accumulated at the top of the gorge face and continually deposits at the base where individuals walk, according to Walter Hang, a scientist and activist who has been advocating for this area’s cleanup.

The most recent sampling from February revealed toxin levels as high as 69,800 parts per million, according to data provided to The Sun by Hang. Acceptable levels in soil are around 400 parts per million, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The City made an effort to clean up the area in 2015. According to Hang, the area was recontaminated soon after.

In 2017, after the cleanup efforts, the Department of Environmental Conservation proposed a “No Further Action” remedy for the Ithaca Falls Overlook site. It based this proposal on interim remedial measures that had already been implemented, during which 2,652 tons of contaminated soil and 327 tons of concrete were removed.

According to a DEC email to The Sun, a contractor sampled the soil in the Ithaca Falls and Gorge Trail region in February as part of their “aggressive effort to protect public health.” A City statement from late March said that the sampling was part of continual monitoring after the 2015 contamination and cleanup.

Upon receiving the findings, which revealed elevated lead levels, the DEC contacted the Department of Health and the EPA.

Areas of contamination include areas where visitors and young children walk around, according to Hang, who said that contamination extended to the gorge trail that goes beside Ithaca Falls.

Courtesy of Walter Hang

Lead contamination taken from the Fall Creek site.
Dry lead can stick to people, clothes, hair, pets and items, according to Hang, and the lead contamination is visible to the naked eye.

The City said that it plans to post signs to warn visitors of the Falls to limit contact with the soil in the vicinity, according to the City’s statement. It also aims to accelerate the plans to install fence and gravel to cover trails.

According to Hang, previous clean-ups have been unsuccessful because they weren’t complete enough. To be successful this time, “they’ve got to just clean it all up,” Hang said.

Hang expressed doubt that the City itself would be sufficient in the effort, saying he thinks “the EPA is our only hope for cleaning this up.”

By Spectrum News Staff  |  April 11, 2018 @11:15 AM  – In an effort to support communities still recovering from PFOS contamination — Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have secured millions of dollars that will go toward PFOS research and clean-up efforts.

The New York senators say the recently passed Omnibus Bill authorizes $63.8 million that will go towards communities impacted by PFOS and PFOA contamination, including Newburgh.

Roughly $43 million will specifically go to the Air Force Environmental Restoration fund, which gives the Department of Defense resources to identify, investigate and clean up former waste disposal sites on military properties.

The CDC will receive $10 million to study the health effects of PFOS, and another $10 million will go toward health screenings related to contaminated water.

In a statement announcing the secured funding, Senator Gillibrand said in part:

“It is unacceptable that New Yorkers in some communities have had to worry about whether their drinking water will make them sick. These funds will help with these recovery efforts and will help uncover the full extent to which the contamination is affecting the water and health of New Yorkers.”

By Eric Lipton | NY Times | October 21, 2017 – The Environmental Protection Agency has published a list of 10 toxic threats it will evaluate first under a law passed last year intended to crack down on hazardous chemicals. They are among 90 chemicals identified by the agency that may harm children, damage nerve tissue, cause cancer, contaminate the environment, accumulate in the bloodstream or show up in consumer products. As the review begins, industry and other interest groups are urging the E.P.A. to limit any restrictions.

Asbestos
Where you may find it: Asbestos has not been manufactured in the United States since 2002, but imports surged last year, and it is still used in certain vehicle braking systems, asphalt roof coatings and gaskets. Asbestos is also commonly used by chlorine manufacturers.

How it could hurt you: Asbestos is associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, heart, chest and abdomen.

Industry intervention: The trade group representing the chlorine industry, the American Chemistry Council, argues that “the few remaining uses for asbestos are tightly controlled,” and that banning it would not do much to protect health.

1-Bromopropane
Where you may find it: 1-bromopropane is used as a refrigerant, a lubricant, a degreaser and a solvent in spray adhesives and dry cleaning. Its use in agricultural chemical manufacturing and foam-cushion manufacturing has also been reported.

How it could hurt you: Exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, slurred speech, confusion, muscle twitching, difficulty walking and loss of consciousness. Studies on animals suggest that exposure is also associated with reduced blood cell counts along with toxicity to the liver and the reproductive and nervous systems.

Industry intervention: The Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates Research Council, which represents companies that manufacture the chemical, argue that the E.P.A. should not consider health threats that occur when people do not follow warning labels.

Carbon Tetrachloride
Where you may find it: Carbon tetrachloride, a clear liquid with a sweet smell, was once used in refrigeration fluids, aerosol propellants, pesticides, cleaning fluids, spot removers and degreasing agents. Most of those uses have been banned, but it is still has industrial applications, such as manufacturing petrochemicals.

How it could hurt you: It can cause injuries to the liver and kidneys and, at high levels, can result in fatal damage to the brain and nervous system.

Industry intervention: Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance argues that worker exposures are already regulated by Labor Department safety rules and that “occupational conditions of use do not pose an unreasonable risk.”

1,4-Dioxane
Where you may find it: 1,4-dioxane is a flammable liquid with a variety of industrial applications, such as the manufacture of adhesives and sealants and other chemicals. It is used in paint strippers, dyes, greases, varnishes and waxes, and it can be found in antifreeze, aircraft de-icing fluids, deodorants, shampoos and cosmetics.

How it could hurt you: The E.P.A. says that the chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and that it may cause kidney and liver damage. It is now often found at low levels in drinking water supplies.

Industry intervention: The American Cleaning Institute argues that while many consumer products may have small amounts of 1,4-dioxane, they are “extraordinarily low levels” and should be ignored.

Cyclic Aliphatic Bromide Cluster
Where you may find it: Cyclic aliphatic bromide cluster is a group of chemicals found in flame retardants, plastic additives and certain polystyrene foams used in the construction industry for thermal insulation boards.

How it could hurt you: People may be exposed to the chemicals from products and dust in the home. Animal test results suggest potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects.

Industry intervention: The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers argues that the E.P.A. should not consider “potential of an accident or misuse, whether intentional or unintentional,” when deciding to restrict these chemicals, as “misuse is not even predictable and should never be included in toxicological risk assessment.”

Methylene Chloride
Where you may find it: Methylene chloride is used in pharmaceutical manufacturing and polyurethane foam manufacturing. It is also found in paint strippers, adhesives, metal cleaners and aerosol solvents. Many products are sold at home improvement stores.

How it could hurt you: Exposure can harm the central nervous system, with effects including dizziness, incapacitation and, sometimes, death. It is also linked to liver toxicity, liver cancer and lung cancer. It has been associated with dozens of deaths. The E.P.A., just days before the end of the Obama administration, proposed banning its use as a paint stripper because of these hazards.

Industry intervention: W.M. Barr & Company, the largest national manufacturer of solvents, removers, fuels and cleaning products, asked the E.P.A. to withdraw its proposed rule to ban methylene chloride in paint strippers, arguing that its products do “not present an unreasonable risk.”

N-Methylpyrrolidone
Where you may find it: N-Methylpyrrolidone is a solvent used in petrochemical processing. It can be found in plastics, paints, inks, enamels, electronics, industrial and consumer cleaning products and arts and crafts materials.

How it could hurt you: It may pose a particular risk to women who are pregnant or of childbearing age, according to studies on animals that suggest delayed fetal development.

Industry intervention: The NMP Manufacturers Group argues that the chemical “is used in many industry sectors, in varied processes,” and that it would be “unworkable for industry and unworkable for EPA” to evaluate them all.

Perchloroethylene
Where you may find it: Perchloroethylene, also known as perc, is a solvent widely used in dry-cleaning chemicals, automotive-care products, cleaning and furniture-care products, lubricants, greases, adhesives, sealants and paints and coatings.

How it could hurt you: High-level inhalation exposure is associated with kidney dysfunction, dizziness, headache, sleepiness and unconsciousness, while long-term inhalation exposure may affect the liver, the kidneys and the immune and reproductive systems. The E.P.A. has classified it as likely to be carcinogenic to humans, as it is associated with bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma. It is also a drinking-water contaminant.

Industry intervention: The Drycleaning and Laundry Institute and the National Cleaners Association argue that “any future decision to reduce or phase out the use of perc in drycleaning will put an oppressive burden on thousands of cleaners” and that “sadly, in taking any radical regulatory action the EPA will be doing little to reduce the negligible risks associated with the use, while threatening the future viability of thousands of dry cleaners.”

Pigment Violet 29
Where you may find it: Pigment Violet 29 is used in watercolors, acrylic paints, automotive paints, inks for printing and packaging, cleaning and washing agents, pharmaceuticals, solar cells, paper, sporting goods and industrial carpeting. It is also approved to be used in food packaging.

How it could hurt you: There are limited health studies, but preliminary work suggests “acute toxicity, eye irritation, skin irritation, skin sensitization,” and perhaps reproductive and developmental toxicity.

Industry intervention: Color Pigments Manufacturers Association argues that it “does not pose any known hazard in any reasonably foreseeable use or misuse, and therefore cannot present an unreasonable risk.”

Trichloroethylene
Where you may find it: Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, is used to make a refrigerant chemical and remove grease from metal parts. It is also a spotting agent for dry cleaning and can be found in consumer products. The E.P.A., in the final days of the Obama administration, proposed a ban on its use in dry-cleaning chemicals, spot removers and aerosol degreasers.

How it could hurt you: It is associated with cancers of the liver, kidneys and blood. Animal studies suggest that it may also be a factor in birth defects, testicular cancer, leukemia, lymphomas and lung tumors. TCE is also a drinking-water contaminant.

Industry intervention: The Halogenated Solvents Industry Alliance, which manufactures the chemical, argues that the E.P.A. has conducted a “very deficient risk assessment.” Pointing to one study the E.P.A. has used, the group says that “a single flawed study should not be the basis for the toxicological value that serves as the basis for regulation.”