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Chemical Engineering Overview 

Franklyn Hall

Chemical Engineer
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Washington, DC

B.S. - Chemical Engineering, Howard University
Chemical engineer, working in the Economics, Exposure and Technology Division
"Because there are so many different areas of engineering, search out the one that addresses your strengths and abilities the best and don't just fall into one of the big four: mechanical, civil, electrical, or chemical engineering."

Hall: "Two things that we mainly do. One is occupational exposure assessment. Primarily what that involves, I guess when a chemical comes into commerce in the United States, whenever it's going to be manufactured, processed or used in any quantity, or in certain quantities it has to go through an review process and the engineers in my branch review that chemical for any potential exposure to the workers or any people who may be using the chemical during their lifetime. The second part of what we primarily do is general technical support. We do a lot of data searching, technical review, summarizing and kind of submitting technical data that we get from industry."

Hall: "I made a lot of contacts. I was able to use some of those contacts to maybe find out what the employment opportunities were at different companies and that's actually how I got the opportunity to be interviewed here, was through a contact I made at a career fair."

Q: What is a typical day like for you?
Usually, it starts out with the pre-manufacturing notification. I will go ahead and pick up the submitted data from the manufacturer. I will review that data and then make the assessment of the different occupational exposures, as well as any environmental releases that we think could occur. We do a lot of support. One of the things that I work on is the Toxic Release Inventory. There are different work groups involved with chemicals in the environment that certain communities or state and local governments may want to put into what's called the Community Right to Know for Toxic Release Inventory. I review the releases, the different locations, the potential for this chemical to be used in other industries, and then this information, along with that of another multi-disciplinary group, is used to come to a conclusion as to whether or not this chemical should be put on the TRI-the Toxic Release Inventory-or if it should be de-listed from this Release Inventory. We look also at protective clothing that workers may wear, whether it be gloves, full body suits, respirators, that kind of thing, and evaluate the technical information that we receive on that.

Q: How long would it take for you to review one chemical?
Generally, with the PMN chemicals-the Pre-manufacturing Notification chemicals-there is a 90-day review period. So from the day that the EPA receives the submitted information, we have to review it and come to a conclusion on whether or not we need to regulate it or whether or not we need more test data in those 90 days. So I have a relatively short period of time to get the information, review it, and get it back out so that these other disciplines can take a look at it and do their own assessments so that the group can come together and make a conclusion.

Q: Who do you interact with on a day-to-day basis?
I do a lot of work with a large number of different disciplines. We work with lawyers, biologists, statisticians, toxicologists-all these people bring their own expertise. Together, we look at, not just at the chemical make-up, or the physical properties of a chemical, but also at how prevalent this chemical is in commerce. What potential is there for this chemical's production volume to be increased, and that's where an economist may come in. Then we also look at what is called the risk, the probability that this chemical could be exposed to certain populations. We also look at how much of this chemical it would take before you would start to see some kind of observed effect, whether it be an ecological effect or a human toxicity effect. That's where toxicologists naturally come in.

Q: Do you have to have some understanding of the work that these other professionals do?
Absolutely, yes. The information that we pass on is used to make larger decisions, so we need to have some understanding as to what these other disciplines are going to do with the information we pass on. Just by the interaction with these other people we gain a little bit of knowledge into what they do in toxicology and economics. Sometimes we're relied on to incorporate some of this information that they come up with into our own reports, so naturally we have to have an understanding of what they do.

Q: What is it like to work for the government?
I compare it to experiences I've had in industry. You do more review and more research than you probably would in industry, so, from that standpoint, I think you get an opportunity to learn some different things. You write a lot of reports, and do a lot of summaries, so you naturally have to understand the material that you're reviewing. But you have to write in a form that someone who's maybe non-technical can read. We decipher a lot of technical information that we receive, so there has to be some understanding of who your audience is going to be.

Q: What do you like about being in the government sector, and what are some of the things that aren't as attractive to you?
Hall: T
he biggest thing that I like about being in the government sector, particularly in the EPA, is that I'm given the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects. Environmental issues come up all the time. There are always developments in different areas and policy. So, I get a chance to do things in what are called `new chemicals,' or chemicals that have yet to be manufactured, as well as working on existing chemicals-chemicals that have been in commerce for a significant period of time. I really enjoy that. I enjoy the research end because I get a chance to learn other things that I might not be exposed to if I didn't have to go and find more information on projects that I'm working on. I wish that I were able to do more hands-on chemical engineering work. We don't really do a lot of site visits and that kind of thing. We really review a lot of information and are relied upon heavily to review and understand the information that we get, whether or not we have expertise. The chemical industry is all over the place. We have to gain experience in a lot of different areas where maybe, if we had an opportunity to get out and see these things actually in action, we'd have even a greater understanding of what we're dealing with.


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