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Day in the Life: Manager ensures hazardous waste safety

Colleen Quinlan, hazardous waste program manager, inspects a barrel of military hazardous waste June 2. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Colleen Quinlan, hazardous waste program manager, inspects a barrel of military hazardous waste June 2. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Published: June 5, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 5, 2014) -- Fort Rucker residents don’t have to worry about anthropomorphic, crime-fighting turtles popping out of the sewers anytime soon because the installation keeps a tight lid on its hazardous waste.

Colleen Quinlan is the hazardous waste program manager, and although she agrees that a Fort Rucker version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be a sight to see, she takes her job to protect people and the environment too seriously to let that occur.

“We have to do right when we collect hazardous waste because safety of our workforce is extremely important to us. We don’t want people getting sick or dying from exposure to a dangerous chemical or substance, whether they work on post or (live nearby),” she said.

Hazardous material can be an item or agent that has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors. While hazardous waste has properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment, said Quinlan.

“I am involved on both sides of the house. My office has to approve every chemical that comes onto base that will be used,” she said. “The materials are managed and tracked when we get it and we are responsible for the waste forever. So, in 100 years, if someone found one of our drums in a river somewhere, we are still held liable for that.”

Quinlan said that there are chemicals that the military has to use that are hazardous, but officials are always looking to find greener alternatives, and safer processes and materials to use on the installation.

The Wiregrass can trust Fort Rucker to not damage communities, because of committed employees like Quinlan.

“Our mission will not succeed at the expense of people or the environment. Our responsibility does not end when the water or air crosses the installation boundaries,” she said.

Fort Rucker is fortunate to have civilian and military workers that are conscious of what they do, and the best ways to reduce the harsh products that they use, she said.

“We have a lot of interest in greener products that are more sustainable, and that has a lot to do with us being able to bring down our hazardous waste,” she added.

Fort Rucker is a large quantity generator of hazardous waste because it generates more than 2,200 pounds of waste per month. The installation has decreased its hazardous waste generation from 297,436 pounds in 2004 to 74,414 in 2013, with the help of workers like Quinlan.

“I do everything from identify and characterize installation processes that generate hazardous waste and maintaining records to ensuring that the waste is shipped before 90 days (which is the legal holding limit at Fort Rucker). I also help develop and implement installation initiatives to reduce the generation of hazardous waste,” she said.

The position calls for someone who can multitask, said Quinlan, a self-described “passionate worker”.

“I feel like I have to be everywhere all the time because Fort Rucker has contractors coming and going every day. So, I have to make sure that everyone is complying with our regulations, and that is important to me because I want to make sure we are all safe,” she said.

Quinlan said that working with Soldiers is one of the best things about her work.

“Soldiers really feel comfortable stopping in or calling with questions about recycling or hazardous waste removal, and it’s great that they care enough to seek out all avenues and to come to our training,” she said.

Quinlan added that many Soldiers “really care about this mission to sustain what we have. That shows that they really believe in the Army Values.”

One minor slipup handling and labeling the hazardous waste can have dire consequences for everyone, financially and environmentally. It can also cause bodily harm to an entire community, said the program manager.

“I can’t let a mundane routine make me forget about how important this mission is to everyone and everything around us,” she said.

This article was originally published at

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