When a chemist talks about her life in the lab, it can sound as though she’s speaking a foreign language—atomic absorption, method detection limit, inductively coupled argon plasma emission spectrometer. But Eileen Arnold (Healy) ’77, a scientist with ALS, formerly Columbia Analytical Services, Inc., in Kelso, WA, communicates what she does in a way anyone can understand.
Arnold is supervisor of the metals reporting group responsible for analysis and report generation for environmental samples using approved EPA techniques. “At CAS we analyze different soil, water or tissue samples from a variety of places such as Superfund sites, or property sales—an analysis will tell them if there are any contaminants. I supervise the reporting in the metals department and I compile the data into reports for clients.”
Arnold is also the environmental, health and safety officer—a role she enjoys— responsible for the development and implementation of the Kelso Health and Safety program, including accident investigation and incident review, training, and completion of all federal- and state-mandated EH&S reports.
“I do all the EH&S training for all the employees,” said Arnold. “I get to meet them and tell them about the company and our health and safety program. I’m responsible for making sure our program meets all the government standards and if there is an injury, I make sure we do an evaluation to determine what we could have done differently.”
Arnold knew she wanted to be a scientist early on, admitting that she “always liked the lab stuff” while at Immaculata. “I thought I was going pre-med,” she said, “so I ended up taking biology-chemistry.”
Arnold also minored in ethics, something she continues to draw upon in her work.
“Ethics was really interesting to me. I loved the different discussions we had in class, and in the work I do now, we deal with a lot of ethical decision making. I use what I was exposed to then all the time. It was a great background.”
After graduating from Immaculata, Arnold initially encountered some professional obstacles. “I had applied for a job at an all-male lab,” she said, “and I remember talking to the guy and his telling me that he wasn’t sure about putting a woman in the lab with all of them. He said having a woman in the lab would be really different and he didn’t think they could handle it. I found it hard to get a job.”
Arnold eventually was hired by Janbridge in Philadelphia, a printed circuit board manufacturer where, among other duties, she performed quality assurance testing.
From there she moved to Ametek, Inc. in Harleysville, PA as a product research and development chemist involved in the production of semiconductors for use as solar cells, work she referred to as being “very cool.”
After a few years in R&D, Arnold married and her new husband wanted to move to the West Coast. “We took six months and drove across the country,” she said. “We ended up in Springfield, Oregon and I started working for Dow Corning.”
It was there that Arnold began working in silicon manufacturing with inductively coupled plasma but, as Arnold explained, “The silicon smelter kept failing, and it had a leak, so Dow shut us down for a while.”
Fortunately, her experience with Dow led to the work she does today. “There weren’t too many ICP operators, so Columbia Analytical Services offered me a job and I took it. And when I got to CAS, I was the only one doing health and safety. Today, as part of ALS, we have a fully developed program.”
Since she’s been in the field for decades, Arnold has witnessed the progress that’s been made through the EPA since the 1970s. “I’ve always been a part of it, always watched it. You see how it has worked to clean up different parts of the country. They are making a difference. And it’s always interesting to do a big project that spans a couple of years.”
Arnold noted, however, the workload sometimes gets heavy. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and it gets busy at certain times of the year. We get samples from all over the world and, in some cases, in order to sample you have to have the right amount of water on the ground. Weather plays a big role.”
Despite the “heavy metal” work, Arnold’s life is not lived just in the lab. Her son recently married, she is active in her church, and she loves to travel. “I went to the reunion in the northwest and it was so cool to see people from Immaculata there. A Longview theater showed the Mighty Macs movie and there were only three people in the theater, so it was like having a private showing.” Though Arnold was a student during the Mighty Macs’ rise to national champions, she was not a player. “I was on buckets and sticks brigade,” she quipped.
And Arnold doesn’t speak just the technical language of chemistry. “I went back to school for sign language a few years ago,” she said. “I had a deaf friend and I wanted to be able to communicate with her. Sign language uses a different part of your brain. It’s very artistic to me. And it’s been really nice to be able to communicate in a different way.”