Research and Teaching Statement
Jeff R. Bowman, MSPH, CHMM
My research interests are focused on both the application of current technology as indicators of risk and the development of field analysis that can assist both the professional and technician in understanding how to better protect public health and the environment. I have just completed initial research on the use of the Eclox Enhanced Chemiluminescence (ECL) method as a rapid field testing procedure for contamination in drinking water. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, concern was focused on the deliberate contamination of public drinking water supplies and the need to quickly obtain concurrence that contamination may have taken place. As such, a considerable number of Eclox test kits were purchased by water systems and state emergency responders as a means of providing rapid toxicity testing. Although ECL has been shown to detect a wide variety of contaminants in pure (deionized) water and has also been shown to be a reliable means to determine pollution levels in surface water, very little reported research has been performed on treated drinking water
Public water systems are required by the EPA to perform field testing that will support both the threat evaluation and site hazard assessment requirements outlined in EPA’s Response Protocol Toolbox. A public water system utilizing a rapid field test method, such as Eclox, must understand the performance characteristics and limitations of the test. It is critical that those who rely on these tests understand that a negative result may not indicate the absence of a contaminant if the test method has a high rate of false negative results or is not sufficiently sensitive to detect the contaminant at levels of concern. As part of a hazmat emergency response team it was my responsibility to make a determination as to the degree of hazard or contamination present which would then be used to determine the risk and controls necessary to mitigate potential harm to both crew and affected population. This often meant relying on crude field analysis measures and instruments, which confidence in their results becomes critical especially when human health is involved.
Despite of these limitations, the results obtained by rapid field test methods, such as Eclox, can be valuable in making decisions early in the response to a contamination threat, particularly during the transition from the ‘possible’ to the ‘credible’ stage. Although there are many technologies and detectors commercially available that could be used for expanded field testing, according to the EPA "few of these technologies have undergone a thorough and independent performance evaluation and the use of field testing technologies for which performance has not been characterized is strongly discouraged. ” When a contamination threat is received or a contamination incident happens, it is therefore critical for the water system to act quickly and effectively to protect public health (EPA, 2006c). The usefulness of the Eclox ECL test as a first response tool to determine the potential toxicity of a drinking water source is predicated on its ability to detect contaminants at levels that pose a public health concern with similar accuracy and precision obtained by more advanced analytical devices.
In addition to having these tools available, those that respond and are tasked with protecting public health and the environment must have the training and knowledge base needed to effectively utilize this information. There is a lack of a cohesive training/education methodology for environmental health and safety professionals and technical staff which limits their effectiveness in communicating risk to the affected population. Initial and continuing training programs often focus too much on meeting regulatory requirements for classroom hours rather than teaching how all the various parts fit together. In addition, those that service rural communities, such as public health officials and volunteer fire fighters, are often poorly trained in the various functions they may be tasked to perform in an emergency involving hazardous material. I plan to continue this strategy of incorporating technology and training in any ongoing research I may be involved with in the future.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my current position as the environmental training coordinator is the opportunity to teach and interact with students who attend training classes that I have designed and implemented. Regardless of their pay grade or education, I have found that treating those in attendance with respect and an appreciation for what they do on a daily basis has allowed me to connect with my students, giving them the freedom to explore and to think about problems in new ways. Although in a training organization we are referred to as instructors, myself, as well as my peers, consider ourselves as teachers. As such, we have the opportunity to guide those attending our training classes in new discoveries about not just what they are responsible for doing but the “why” behind it. In this way we prepare the professional and technical work force with the skills to perform their responsibilities more efficiently, cost effectively, professionally, and most importantly, safely.
If academia teaches students to think, training teaches a student to do. Unfortunately training has often been relegated to nothing more than checking a box indicating that the objective has been completed regardless of whether any learning has taken place. This provides a real disservice to those required to attend in that it not only devalues the work they do but inadequately prepares them for outside the norm events. What training should focus on is developing a skill set that progressively increases in depth and understanding while building on a core set of proficiencies. This can be accomplished by the training organization keeping their focus on the student’s experience in the classroom or training venue.
The traditional back-to-back 8-hour training day commonly employed to comply with regulatory training requirements for HAZWOPER and Asbestos work is often ineffective as most adult learners are unable to process all of the information presented to them continuously throughout the training day. A better approach and one that I am interested in pursuing is utilizing other venues that were not available when these “40 hour” type training requirements were put into regulation. A more learner-centered approach would utilize not solely a classroom experience but would focus on building basic knowledge prior to initiating exercise and hands-on activities. Although a set time frame for student contact hours is often required or, in some cases expected, learner-centered training utilizing various methodologies, such as computer based, workbook, or online training would help develop a better prepared student when hands-on skills are taught.
In my experience one style of training, whether it is online, computer, classroom, or lecture, does not serve the student in the same manner as multiple approaches to achieving a training objective. Having different methodologies puts the focus back on learning and can also be more cost effective for both the student and provider without compromising quality and content. I would be most interested in developing training programs that utilize different approaches, especially those that provide basic knowledge so that the teacher/instructor is free to spend time on exercises, examples, or hands-on activities. This shift from “classroom only” does require resources and commitment, but I believe that it vastly improves the student experience which reflects highly on the training provider and staff.
A second aspect of teaching that I enjoy is mentoring and providing technical assistance to students in the class and after the class has completed. The ability to assist students with understanding a complicated or complex environmental or safety issue is one of the most rewarding aspects, both because it allows me an opportunity to help them in their jobs, and because it keeps me from becoming complacent or stagnant, a much too common pitfall of a professional instructor. I also enjoy working with other instructors and subject matter experts and have found that a team approach to developing training objectives and methodologies often produces a more polished and better orchestrated product, especially the first time through. I have found that the best training and education is brought about when the instructor is able to connect with his or her students. One of my goals as a Training Coordinator has been to find instructors that are not only experts in their field but have a commitment and passion to provide students with a training experience that not only complies with expectations of the employer or regulator but exceeds the student’s expectations while they were attending. I will continue to strive for a balance between all the various factors in play without losing focus on meeting the needs and objectives of the student. A shift from a traditional classroom only setting only will not be achieved quickly, but I believe that it would have a beneficial effect, both in the effectiveness and capability of spill response personnel, and in the overall satisfaction of students participating in the program.