The ‘Big Think’ with Ron MacGillivray
| November 14, 2023
A series of conversations with people who have worked in and for the watershed, sharing their expertise and knowledge.
You were the DRBC’s liaison to the Toxics Advisory Committee. What was that all about?
The DRBC liaison to the Toxics Advisory Committee (TAC), works to engage qualified representatives from industry, municipalities, academia, public health, environmental and watershed organizations, as well as state and federal government agencies in the exchange of information and viewpoints on a variety of issues to inform DRBC policy decisions regarding toxic contaminants in basin waters.
The liaison coordinates DRBC staff administrative and technical support to the committee.
Commission staff may participate in committee meetings but do not have voting power. Commission staff are free to endorse or disagree with specific recommendations through a summary report to the DRBC executive director.
Over the course of more than two decades, I worked with many others on reducing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in river water and fish, developing better ways to monitor the tidal Delaware River for ambient toxicity, updating stream quality objectives for human health and aquatic life, and evaluating the occurrence and aquatic toxicity of contaminants of emerging concern.
Thousands of new chemicals are created and used in commerce each year. Keeping pace with the knowledge of the risk in water to human and ecological health of these substances is challenging.
A growing body of information on the adverse effects of emerging contaminants such as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the so-called “forever chemicals,” has caused increased interest and concern about how these substances impact our water resources.
One of my roles at the DRBC included working with a team to monitor emerging contaminants, such as PFAS in river water. As part of the work, we concluded that an integration of effects-based tools, passive sampling, non-targeted chemical analysis, and traditional targeted chemical analysis is a recommended strategy for monitoring and prioritization of emerging contaminants.
Cooperation among national and regional partners is needed along with education to address the increased interest and concern about how these substances impact our water resources.
Now that you’ve retired, what are you up to?
Now that I am retired from the DRBC, thankfully I have more time to enjoy swimming, bicycling, walking, gardening, and reading.
My interests, concerns, and hopes for our environment are still strong.
In today’s world characterized by rapid and global environmental changes, I see the need to promote environmental awareness and action.
It is crucial that citizens understand the key concepts in environmental science. With that in mind, I am teaching a course at Temple University that provides students with an introduction to the science behind current environmental issues.
I have found that some of the students have anxiety about environmental topics like climate change and what is in their drinking water. The course investigates these topics and encourages students to be agents of change. For example, in addition to learning about actions by federal and state agencies to address environmental problems such as PFAS contamination, we look at individual actions to reduce risk from exposure to PFAS, such as checking product labels for ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro,” evaluating your local drinking water quality report to see if PFAS are been monitored, and abiding by fish consumption advisories for different waterbodies.
More information on PFAS and how to avoid them can be found at Meaningful and Achievable Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Risk and Green Science Policy Institute.
Personally, I aim to be a better environmental citizen by driving my car less and using the train more, composting food waste, and exploring ways to be more active locally through organizations like the Darby Creek Valley Association (www.dcva.org) and my township government.
To help prepare the next generation of environmental practitioners, I will be teaching a course in Environmental Toxicology at Villanova University starting in spring 2024.
My hope for the future includes an enthusiastic expectation that we will make great progress in creating a more sustainable planet.