CTEH Spotlight: Mike Lumpkin
Mike Lumpkin, PhD, DABT, joined CTEH in 2014 as a consulting toxicologist. He has experience working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Defense, and various environmental consulting firms. Learn more about Mike’s unique role at CTEH below.
What does your day-to-day look like at CTEH?
My project work has been very different from most of my colleagues. I came to CTEH with experience in product stewardship toxicology and regulatory toxicology. I had a number of clients in that world, in dietary supplements, cleaning agents, and paint and paint stripper type products. For about three years here, the majority of my work was managing the Hanford Site project, which involved worker exposure and toxicology and risk communication to both the Department of Energy and their workforce. Now, the majority of my time is spent consulting on public health research and public health issues in Colorado having to do with the oil and gas industry.
What were some highlights of your regulatory toxicology experience?
I had clients who were facing potential bans or regulatory restrictions on the products they were making and whether specific ingredients were safe for consumer use. Some of these clients went to litigation, and I served as an expert witness opining on the safety of their compounds. Some of those clients asked me to help assess safety of products as they were bringing them into the market.
What is the Hanford Site?
The Department of Energy’s Hanford Site has been around since 1943. It was part of the original Manhattan Project and provided plutonium for the nation’s first atomic bombs. After World War II, it was where most of the plutonium in our entire nuclear arsenal was made. In 1987, it closed, and in 1989, the government started cleaning it up. Hanford is now a superfund site with over 600 square miles potentially contaminated with chemicals and radiation. Most of the hot radiation was in the buildings where they were fabricating plutonium.
CTEH’s role involved toxicology and risk communication related to the 52 million gallons of nuclear sludge in underground tanks that called the tank farms. Because the tanks contain so much radioactive chemistry, they have to be maintained meticulously. One of the problems with the tank farms is that they vent gases into the atmosphere in order to keep them from bulging or exploding and spreading radioactivity. So, gases come out, but radiation does not. The workforce there, for a long time, had been concerned about the chemicals that vent from time to time and whether or not they were causing people to get sick.
How did CTEH help at the Hanford Site?
The industrial hygiene program at the Hanford Site has improved dramatically since the turn of millennium. Radiation safety was better understood than chemical hazards. [PN1] Around the early 2000s, they updated and improved [PN2] their chemical safety program. However, the fact that workers could sometimes smell some of the chemicals emitted from the tanks at extremely low levels, and not know what the chemicals were, caused a lot of concerns.
CTEH was asked to come in as an independent third party and evaluate the tank farm contractor’s industrial hygiene program and offer recommendations. One question they had was, “Is our program sufficiently robust to keep workers safe?” Another question was, “Should we be doing anything differently?” Our ability to address these questions led the prime contractor to offer CTEH a long-term contract to implement some of the recommendations on-site. That work, for the next three years, involved rotations of toxicologists going to Hanford, talking to the workforce, developing relationships, understanding concerns, then producing a number of lay-level teaching tools to address the risks of the gases from those tanks.
CTEH took a large volume of technical data produced over the years by various contractors and distilled it into an understandable story that could be explained to the workforce. We developed videos, PowerPoints, and seminars, and we met with union leaders, worker teams, and management to answer their questions and address concerns about the toxicology of waste tank vapors. We helped another contractor develop parts of an eight-hour chemical vapors training course for all workers to go through. Then, at the end of weekly classes, CTEH toxicologists hosted Q&A sessions with trainees. That was found to be very successful.
What occupies your time when you’re not consulting?
I love outdoor activities, as does my family. So, we do camping, hiking, mountain biking and road biking, and I love fishing.