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Profile in Sustainability — An Interview with David Gillum

January 28, 2009

David Gillum
David Gillum, assistant director, Office of Environmental Health and Safety
Courtesy photo: Joshua Thayer

Why are environmental health and safety issues so important to sustainability?

The protection of human health and the environment is one of the most important ways for us to be sustainable. It is so important that there is a federal law in place that requires us to make practical efforts to reduce the volume and toxicity of our hazardous wastes and to minimize the present and future threat to human health and the environment. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety helps achieve these goals by promoting the proper management of hazardous materials on campus and the proper disposal of those materials, as well as looking at ways to minimize their impact on human health and the environment.

How can faculty, staff and students help to ensure a safe and healthful environment for everyone at UNH?

It is important for everyone to consider their impact on human health and the environment in everything we do. There are so many things that can be done to lessen our impact on the environment. For example, researchers can exchange highly hazardous chemicals for less hazardous chemicals in research experiments. We can install more efficient chemical fume hoods in our laboratories and install more efficient lighting. In our daily lives, we can help to protect the natural ecosystem by not littering or dumping illicit materials into our storm water system. We can recycle and reduce the consumption of non-recyclable products, re-use items rather than buying new, and give used items to local charities.

What motivates you personally to be involved in sustainability?

I grew up about one hundred miles from Yucca Mountain, the proposed high-level nuclear waste dump, and the Nevada Test Site, in the small ghost town of Goldfield, Nevada. In my town, people would take their trash to an unlined hole in the ground, which would sometimes catch on fire and was an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. Knowing how important water is in the high desert, I was always astonished that no one seemed to care if the dump was leaching into our water supply. When I moved to Las Vegas for my undergraduate studies, I learned that the water intake for the city was about one mile upstream from the sewage discharge into Lake Mead. It was from these and many other experiences that I knew that sustainability and the protection of the environment was in my future.

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