Maggie Breville ’82: Environmental Science for Human Health
CLAIM TO FAME: As an environmental scientist and project officer for the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, Maggie Breville ’82 oversees millions of dollars in federal grants. During her quarter-century in public service, she has monitored New York City’s drinking water, worked on cleanup of a Superfund site, and pioneered the EPA’s process of peer review for research grant proposals.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL ‘TREE HUGGER’: Some environmentalists focus more on protecting nature, Breville says, and others on protecting human health. She leans toward the latter. A native Haitian who moved to the U.S. at age 5, she was pushed toward a medical career by her mother. Breville gives credit to Wagner College, where she majored in biology, for awakening her interest in the environment. Her favorite professor was biology department chair Dale Yarns, who took his students to locations ranging from upstate New York to Bermuda so that they could study biology in the field. Later, Breville earned a master’s in environmental science from Tufts University.
PROMOTING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: “In the early ’80s,” Breville explains, “some groups began to look at the fact that some of the most contaminating, most polluting industries and facilities were located in areas more heavily populated by people of color.” This idea became known as environmental justice, and Breville took an early interest in it. Today she oversees research on environmental pollutants’ effects on Native American communities. “The tribal work is my favorite,” she says, “because these communities are so close to the earth, they’re basically one with the earth, more so than any other community.”
CREATIVITY AT PLAY: “It’s amazing,” says Breville of her work overseeing scientific projects. “You’re seeing cutting-edge research when they don’t even have results yet and they’re trying different things, so you see innovation and creativity at play.”