ONE-ON-ONE | Patricia Natali OEPA inspector's love for outdoors led to career choice

Q. Tell me about your job.
A. I work for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, division of hazardous waste management. I'm an on-site inspector for Von Roll America, doing business as WTI [Waste Technology Industries in East Liverpool].
I work in a field office which is 100 yards away from the facility. I basically just focus on the compliance and permitting of the facility. I also take care of complaints down there. It may just be that they're bringing in stinky waste, or they have fires on occasion. Every day is something different.
Q. How long have you been with the agency?
A. I've only been with the agency for six years.
Q. Describe WTI.
A. It's a very high-tech waste incinerator. They accept commercial hazardous waste from a variety of different generators. It comes as bulk solids, in drums and in tanks as liquids.
Basically, they just thermally treat it. Then there's a secondary combustion chamber to reburn the materials. They produce treatment residues like slag and ash, which is sent off to hazardous waste landfills. A lot of things you see are byproducts of society. A lot of people get scared when they think of hazardous waste, but a lot of it is what you'd find in your medicine cabinet or under your sink.
Q. What projects are you working on right now?
A. One of the projects we're working on are communitywide exercises. We're trying to coordinate them with the hospitals, fire departments and police departments and do these drills so if there's any type of accident that occurs, or an incident, then the whole community would be prepared. There are always permit modifications that we're doing.
Q. Where do your science roots start?
A. My aunt talked me into going into college. I first went in for business, then I went into social work because I really liked working with people. Then I went into education. I took geology as a science elective and I fell in love with it. I got a bachelor's degree from Youngstown State University and a master's [degree] from Kent State University.
Q. But why did you get involved in the environment?
A. If I have a passion for something, I want to get totally involved as much as I can. As a kid I loved being outside. It was the most calming for me. Now that I'm older and I look back, I just realize that's important to me.
Q. What are some of the biggest environmental problems in the Mahoning Valley?
A. In my opinion it's the perception people have about the area -- about it being a dumping ground. A lot of young people are leaving. Without the energy of the young people, it'll be very difficult for the community to improve or to grow.
Nobody really prioritizes the environment or values the resources that we have. Like the Mahoning River -- we are so lucky to have the Mahoning River -- and Mill Creek Park; there are so many beautiful places
Q. What are the Valley's strong points, environmentally?
A. Being involved in the Mahoning River Consortium, I've been able to see a lot of things coming to fruition as a result of the work of this group trying to make improvements. I've met so many people without ulterior motives or agendas that are working so hard to improve the Valley.
Q. What is the Mahoning River Consortium?
A. We've been in existence since 1996. I'm one of the founding people. We just started looking at what we could do. The biggest part is education.
We have people in the group that go out and speak to Rotary clubs, Kiwanis, schools, anyone who will listen. Anything that the community brings to us, we try to help them in any way we can. Right now we've got an economic development group that is trying to see about getting a science center in Youngstown.
In addition, we've also been pretty involved with looking at dredging the river. The steering committee has been trying to find match funding and we've gathered information for the Army Corps.
Q. What's the consortium's best achievement so far?
A. It's the little things. Our ultimate goal is to have the river clean. There's a lot of development that cannot take place until we have that river cleaned.
Q. Do you foresee that happening in your lifetime?
A. I'm optimistic. It may take 15 years, but I'm not that old.
Q. What takes up your time outside of work and the MRC?
A. My boyfriend and I have a garden. I run. I spend as much time as I can with my kids. We go to Mahoning Valley Scrappers games whenever I can pull them away from their other activities. I listen to books on tape; right now I'm going through a leadership series by John Maxwell. I like Michael Crichton. I just go into the library to see what looks good.
XTHE WRITER/ The interview was conducted by Vindicator staff writer Paul Wheatley.

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