My name is Alma Feldpausch, and I am a principal toxicologist and risk assessor with Ramboll Consulting based in the Seattle, Washington area. I have been working in environmental consulting for close to 25 years and I have been a member of SME for just one and actually been working within the mining sector for most of my career, but only recently have the bandwidth to reach out and think more broadly.
Outside of my narrow risk assessment. Focus to engage more meaningfully within SME. I've been trying to gain a better understanding of where the human health piece of the work I do fits into the broader context of what different mining companies are facing, whether they're in that operational phase or they're in the planning phase, or if they're at the end of their lifecycle and looking at reclamation and closure.
Having that access to the SME community is just really helping me with doing my job better and building that depth of understanding. I don't actually work with the health and safety of people within the fenceline or within the boundaries of the mines. I work and focus on the health of the people outside of the boundaries or outside of the fenceline.
So my focus is more on community health. What are the potential exposures from the mine outside of the fenceline? A lot of times it's related to dust and of the big band of dust, we're most focused on the smallest particle size, the it's called PM 2.5 and that's what can actually be respire into the lungs and then also chemical exposures.
So I've done a lot of bio monitoring studies of communities where we look at lead and arsenic. Another question that we get asked is, you know, for communities living around mines, is my food safe to eat. Because these mines are often occurring in beautiful areas with a lot of natural beauty and natural resources, and people are gravitate to these areas for hunting and fishing opportunities.
But then, you know, sometimes people want to know, well, you know, is it safe for me to eat that deer or elk that I've harvested in the vicinity of the mine? Or, can I eat the fish that I know a particular mine might discharge to, even if it's within the permit limits? People have those concerns. And so that's where I come in with my team and we can help quantify, you know, what those potential exposures might be, but then also help with the translation of what it means to the community in terms of communication of results.
That's the empowering piece, I think for the mines. It gives them a chance. You know, in most cases I maybe I'm lucky, but a chance to really show what a great job they're doing and then on the community side, help them feel more secure in the environment and confident about, you know, living their lives, but also being especially when they're mine workers, also contributing positively to the economy.
The highlight of my job is to get out there and interact with the public, and I love hearing from them when they are telling me how good they feel about their neighbor, the mining company. And it doesn't mean that they don't have questions or concerns, but that in general there's this understanding the importance of mining not just to the local economy, but to national economies, to world economies, and that they are a part of that.
And there's a lot of pride that goes with that. In addition to this really strong interest in wanting to be good stewards of their environment and of their own health and the health of their families, I always appreciate getting to hear those stories and help be a part of telling it and answering questions. I've worked in mines in North America all the way down to South America, and I feel like that's a very common thread, is there's that piece of pride that goes along with working in the mining industry, along with pride in that the economic contributions.
My goal is to provide some transparency around what potential impacts mines might be having in the environment and how that translates into a possible exposures to people's health. So being very clear about what's happening and then what is being done to minimize or mitigate those potential exposures and then how that translates into risk. I think it's very empowering to people to have a clear understanding of that and be able to make their own decisions about what they are or aren't comfortable doing in many cases.
You know, it's fine to go out and do all the things they want to do, but at least they're doing it from a position of power and knowing what's happening in their environment. One change, I've noticed in even the last five years is an increasing focus from mining companies on equity, diversity and inclusion. And you know, I see it on company websites, I see it on LinkedIn and other social media, and I also see it in my interactions with my clients that it's not just talk in a social media campaign that I'm seeing a very intentional and effective shift toward working in creating more inclusive environments to increasing diversity.
We're seeing that across multiple industries, but in my mind I start first with the mining sector and I often talk about how my mining clients are really leaders in highlighting and making meaningful goals and working to attain those goals. When I started, I was very often the only woman in the room, and now it is sometimes the opposite, you know, where it's all women.
So it is really interesting to see that change. My company does a lot of work in the area of sustainability. I am really excited about ways in which we can support the mining industry with improving their practices to reduce the water usage, the carbon generation looking for opportunities to use greener energies.
My contributions to helping companies improve in my mind are again, increasing the access to information, the transparency and providing that risk communication so that communities living in the vicinity of the mines ideally are working more in partnership and have a better understanding of what's happening within the mines and ideally become more supportive and more co collaborators in these operations as opposed to just people living on the other side of the fence.
Advice to someone starting out in this field. I, you know, I wish I had joined SME earlier and attended a conference to see the breadth of ways in which you can engage with the mining industry. And I think that for someone starting out it would give them a really good opportunity to learn with a little bit more about what they don't know and to see, you know, what else might be of interest to them so that they're not just locked into one view of what they think their path might be, but to be open minded about other options or other opportunities out there.
I became an SME member so that I could learn more about all of the different issues that are facing my clients and how I might be able to better support them. One of the things I find when people ask me what I do and I say, Oh, I'm a human health risk assessor, I'm a toxicologist, I also specify most of my work, probably 90% is with the mining industry.
Unfortunately, I often get a negative response to that. It comes from a place of ignorance and I see it as an opportunity to try to educate people on the importance of mining. I think people don't realize that when you look around you, whatever you see, if it's not grown, it is mined. And so for people coming into this field, I would hope that, you know, that's another reason to go to an SME conference that for people coming in that you keep as open of mind as possible and you see yourself as an ambassador to the outside world.
When you are in those situations where you're talking with people who don't really understand or know much about mining. It's an opportunity to engage with those people and explain to them the importance of that to economy, to national security, to all kinds of things. It's essential to life as we know it.
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