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Meet EPA Scientist Luz V. Garcia, M.S., M.E.

EPA scientist Luz V. García

Luz V. García is a physical scientist at EPA's Division of Enforcement of Compliance Assistance. She is a four-time recipient of the EPA bronze medal, most recently in 2011 for the discovery of illegal pesticides entry at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York.

Garcia was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she later worked on the Environmental Quality Board. She has worked with a wide variety of regulatory programs at EPA including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

How does your science matter?

I work at the Pesticides Toxic Substance Branch of the Division of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance as an inspector who is certified for sampling collections of pesticides, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic substances.

As a pesticide import/export specialist, in 2011 I was the recipient of a bronze medal for preventing the illegal entry of pesticides in the shape of candy through the U.S. Customs ports in New York. This discovery prevented the illegal distribution of pesticides that could have ended up in the hands of many children.

My field of science is important because children's health is a very important issue at EPA.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

I have to say Leonardo da Vinci, because he brought so much knowledge to so many fields beyond science and engineering. He was so talented and he carried that "unquenchable curiosity." We portray him as a pure scientist and inventor but he also touches our soft side as a musician and a painter.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue science?

My "aha" moment came from reading Scientific American magazine while at my middle school library. It inspired me in such a way, the discovery that there were other fields in science besides biology and chemistry. I paid for a year subscription with my allowance even though I was challenged with the difficult scientific terminology at that young age. Nonetheless, my thirst for science knowledge was such that I looked into a Spanish/ English dictionary for the scientific terms above my school grade.

I read all kinds of complex science articles from nuclear physics, organic chemistry, microbiology, hydro geology to microbiology and astrophysics. And it was then, that I made my decision to study science.

Tell us about your science/educational background.

I went to University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus for my science Bachelors degree. Since I graduated from high school in a two year program, I combined my Bachelors degree in Chemistry with another major, Biology.

I got my first Masters degree in the science of Environmental Engineering at Brooklyn Polytechnic. Then after, I discovered that the one of the reasons why the complex regulatory requirements were not easily accepted by the public was the lack of a simplistic way of presenting a complex regulatory requirement. So, I enrolled on my second Masters degree and completed my studies in Environmental Education at New York University.

What brought you to EPA?

After working in Puerto Rico for the Environmental Quality Board (PREQB), then as a Hazardous Waste Manager for the U.S. NAVY, and later working in the research department at Squibb Pharmaceutical, I decided to join EPA.

My experience at PREQB gave me a wide variety of job opportunities in environmental protection. I worked as inspector and acting director in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) program, I did the sampling collection from all media, including groundwater, to the laboratory analysis of the samples. I developed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Superfund program in Puerto Rico, nominating 5 sites that ended up on the National Priority list.

That experience inspired me to join EPA even after working for the private sector and military sectors.

Any advice for students considering a career in science?

Never stop learning. Use every opportunity in life to learn, apply it and educate others. Learning should be an unfinished goal in every person's life.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the researcher alone. EPA does not endorse the opinions or positions expressed.