I started working on education and outreach for the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) in April 2010, after six months of editing cleanup reports at Washington Closure Hanford, one of the Department of Energy’s subcontractors.

Today, I work in the Tank Waste Treatment section of Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program, which focuses on the 56 million gallons of mixed radioactive and chemical waste currently stored in Hanford’s 177 underground tanks. Our section writes the portion of Washington’s Dangerous Waste Permit that regulates the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant currently being built at Hanford. This plant is designed to “vitrify” Hanford’s worst waste by mixing it with glass-formers, heating it to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit, and cooling it into a solid form. This will keep it from further contaminating the groundwater under Hanford and the Columbia River, which flows through Hanford. To date, at least one million gallons of waste have leaked from the tanks, so this issue is of great importance to the Northwest.

While earning my masters in technical communication at Eastern Washington University (where I met classmate from the Tri-Cities who helped me find Hanford-related work after graduation), I studied and put into practice service learning, a teaching tool in which students pair up with government agencies or nonprofit organizations to complete educational projects that benefit their class learning goals and the community. Since starting my work with Ecology, I have facilitated a number of service-learning projects and am always looking for new opportunities.

The most compelling issue to me is public interest in and knowledge of Hanford. I love working with people of all ages and listening to their thoughts and questions about one of the most complicated issues I’ve ever been involved in. I learn something new everyday and will never know everything about Hanford.

To connect with Erika Holmes or another mentor, please click here.

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