Toxic Work Environment?

Toxic Work Environment?

When you hear the term “toxic work environment” it can conjure up thoughts of passive-aggressive banter at the water cooler or overuse of the phrase “as per my last email”.

Tonkin + Taylor’s Dr Jonathan Coakley frequently experiences a toxic work environment. Daily, in fact.

The plus side is, the toxicity Jonathan deals with concerns chemicals and not people themselves.

Jonathan joined T+T in 2018 as an environmental scientist and our only human toxicologist – he deals with hazardous substances and their relationship between humans and the environment. We had the chance to quiz Jonathan about his work and what potential toxic issues we should be aware of. 

What do you do for clients at T+T?

I investigate hazardous substances in soil, sediment, and groundwater. Often, this work is needed by our clients to allow for development on sites where the hazardous substances have been used in the past, for example, sites impacted by historical DDT use, or asbestos. I also work with clients who are keen to reduce discharges of hazardous substances from their operations – it is really satisfying when you can prevent pollution in the first place!

What would you like clients/staff to know about your work?

The reason for my work is to protect people’s health and the health of the environment. I think all of our clients and staff believe that protecting these things is a priority, and T+T has a great record of performance. Personally, I like to really understand the details of my client's operations so I can ask the right questions and hopefully find the right solutions.

Is there a key thing that is misunderstood or that you'd like to set the record straight on about your speciality? 

Some people think about the environment as something separate, outside our normal lives, like a forest or stream.  While the environment includes these natural areas, most people’s “environment” also includes cities, communities, and homes. In some cases, people are exposed to more toxic chemicals in their homes than from any other source. Much of the work in my speciality is about protecting those people most vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemicals, our children.

What are some toxic issues that are close to home that we should be aware of?

Having your own chickens to produce your own eggs is becoming increasingly popular, but there is potential for lead poisoning in eggs. Any home built before 1980 could be affected by lead contamination through paint, so if you have chickens, don’t let them run or feed in areas that might have old lead paint – around old sheds etc. The 2016 New Zealand Total Diet Survey showed levels of lead in eggs of 0.001 mg/kg. Levels of lead in the eggs tested in a recent NZ Herald article ranged from 0.003 to 1.07 mg/kg, so quite a bit higher than in the commercially-produced eggs.

So if I live in an old bungalow or villa, what precautionary steps should I take to prevent contamination?

If you’re working on an old building, you need to be mindful of the spread of paint chips and flakes. If you’re sanding look after your health by using approved protective equipment, avoid sanding on windy days, clean up debris, cover exposed soil with a drop sheet to prevent the spread of lead in sanding dust and do not use abrasive blasting.

What do you hope to achieve at T+T?

I want to work with great people, doing interesting work that benefits society.

What do you love the most about your work?

I love that T+T supports my professional development. Most of this development comes from the interesting projects I work on and clients I work with, but I am also impressed by the support I have received around training and access to resources to develop my expertise.