Industry Expert Spotlight: John Wilson PhD

John Wilson PhD
John Wilson PhD, Principal Scientist of Scissortail Environmental Solutions

When John Wilson, PhD, decided to leave his position as a research microbiologist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and start his own environmental services firm, he chose a name for his company that reflected his spirited commitment to doing things the right way. “I retired from the U.S. EPA in April of 2014”, says Dr. Wilson. “That same month, my wife Barbara and I created Scissortail Environmental Solutions, LLC. Our company is named after the state bird of Oklahoma because the Scissortail Flycatcher is active and alert as it goes about its business, and we try to be the same in all our work.” As the Principal Scientist of Scissortail Environmental Solutions, Wilson, a distinguished REGENESIS Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) member, has transferred a deep reservoir of environmental remediation experience from a highly respected government agency to his own business, creating a comprehensive suite of consulting services for both industry and government. He shares, “Our work focuses on the natural attenuation and active bioremediation of organic contamination in groundwater. The importance of groundwater to economic development and the quality of life in the US will continue to grow as the demand for groundwater increases. We must do everything we can to protect and restore the quality of groundwater.”

Pioneering Remediation Research at the US EPA

Prior to his recent success with Scissortail Environmental Solutions, Wilson was primarily known for his career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and his work at the Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center in Ada, OK. He continues, “From 1979 until I left the EPA in 2014, I worked on bioremediation of chlorinated solvents, and natural attenuation of chlorinated solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons, and fuel components such as MTBE and EDB. At the EPA I helped develop the logic used by the U.S. EPA to implement Monitored Natural Attenuation and to evaluate vapor intrusion from fuel spills.” Now, as the Principal Scientist of Scissortail Environmental Solutions, Wilson divides his time between reviewing the work of others and providing recommendations for improvements and his own applied research. He develops ideas, writes proposals, and does some experimental work, in addition to writing reports. He shares, “I enjoy working with other people to solve problems, and it helps that I like the people I work with. I also have a passion for the work we do.” His career path in environmental remediation originated from an interest in hydrology and from an initial assignment with the EPA that involved exploring the microbiology of groundwater. He continues, “I was originally hired by research managers at the U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development to evaluate whether the aquifers of the United States contained bacteria, and the impact those bacteria might have on groundwater quality. At the time (1978), most engineers and hydrologist thought the deeper subsurface was essentially sterile. I did find bacteria in aquifers and they were doing quite a bit to destroy organic contaminants like TCE and fuel hydrocarbons.”

A History of Accomplishments and Contributions to the Remediation Industry

In addition to his three plus decades of professional experience with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wilson earned a B.S. in Biology from Baylor University, a M.A. in Microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Ph.D. in Microbiology from Cornell University. He served an Adjunct Appointment to Rice University from 1990 to 2000, has written more than 80 published journal articles on a wide range of environmentally-focused topics, and has served as a Member of the Editorial Board of Bioremediation Journal. He is currently an Associate Editor of Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation. To stay abreast of trends and new technologies, Wilson often lectures on industry-related topics. “I learn a lot getting ready to teach. In the past I have provided continuing education through the Battelle Conferences and the National Groundwater Association.” Currently, Wilson serves on the REGENESIS Science Advisory Board. He continues, “As an Advisory Board member my job is to make sure REGENESIS doesn’t miss anything as far as the science of their products goes.” He also appreciates the professional relationship that he and Scissortail Environmental Solutions have with REGENESIS. “I enjoy working with them because they combine a strong technical background with extensive practical experience. They understand what I tell them, but they also know enough to evaluate my recommendations against their own unique experience base.” When it comes to applying specific REGENESIS solutions and products to his work, PlumeStop® tops his list. He shares, “If we can learn when to use PlumeStop, where to use it, and how to use it correctly, we can bring a lot of contaminated sites to closure.”

Residing in Ada, Oklahoma, where his firm’s offices are located, Wilson and his wife, Barbara, enjoy the familiarity and pace of a town they have come to know and appreciate through the years. “We are surrounded by good people,” he shares. “We have known most of the people here for a long time.” Outside of work, a favorite hobby includes rock collecting. He continues, “If I can I’ll bring back a rock from each field site I work. When I take road trips, I like to look at the landforms as we drive by and imagine how they came to be. I have a shelf full of the Roadside Geology series of books that I enjoy reading from time to time.” He also volunteers with the local Boy Scout program, an association that he’s enjoyed in Ada for more than 30 years. He continues, “I am on the local District Committee for Boy Scouts, and work with Troop 4 here in Ada. In fact, Barbara and I teach the Sustainability and Environmental Science Merit Badges. All three of our sons are Eagle Scouts.” In addition, he is active in the Rotary Club, and is a past president of his local club.

A Challenging and Improving Industry

When asked about the most demanding aspect of his work, Wilson points out the importance of good writing in his work. He shares, “Writing is hard for me, and it takes me a lot of time and effort to produce something I am ready to send to the client. Early in my career there were no word processors or spreadsheets. I banged out my reports on a manual typewriter, working from handwritten notes of journals that I had read in a library. I drew up figures for journal articles in ink on a drafting table. But today, the modern tools allow me to spend more time actually thinking about what the data means, instead of being involved in the immediate process of producing the manuscript.” And when asked how he’s seen the industry change over the years, he points to an added emphasis on procedures, safety, and performance compared to what he experienced early in his career. He concludes, “There is more process in the process, and much more documentation of procedures. There are also more forms to complete and permissions that must be granted before we do anything. And there is a much greater emphasis on safety, and on the performance and reliability of the systems that we install. Essentially, our industry does a much better of job now than it did thirty years ago.”

REGENESIS is proud to have John Wilson, PhD and Principal Scientist of Scissortail Environmental Solutions, LLC, as a valued partner in environmental remediation, and appreciates his vast expertise and ongoing efforts in providing successful remediation outcomes for REGENESIS and its clients.

Client Spotlight: Bruce Thompson, Senior Project Director and board member at de maximis, inc.

Bruce ThompsonFor Bruce Thompson, the rigorous training of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he earned his BS degree in Oceanography, provided the appropriate foundation for a successful career in environmental project management. As a Senior Project Director and board member at de maximis, inc., a leading environmental project management firm and valued REGENESIS client, Thompson continues to leverage the leadership and management experience he garnered as a commissioned Naval officer to make an impact in the field of environmental remediation. He shares, “de maximis was founded in 1988 and I was recruited and came aboard in 1991, so I was one of the early employees. I was hired right out of the U.S. Navy, where I had been teaching leadership and management to newly commissioned officers. Prior to that, I was a Division Officer on the USS IOWA, a WWII era battleship homeported in Norfolk, VA.” Now in his 27th year at de maximis, inc., Thompson clearly enjoys his work, and continues to help the firm pursue its overarching goal as the leading provider of comprehensive project coordination and management services for environmental investigation and remediation projects.

A Diverse Range of Remediation Responsibilities

His role with de maximis, inc. includes managing staff and services for New England, which covers a diverse range of remediation sites and responsibilities. He continues, “I serve as the Project Coordinator for work under Administrative Orders on Consent (AOCs) and Consent Decrees (CDs). The Project Coordinator is the lead technical person for the PRP Group, and is responsible for the administrative, technical, and financial aspects of the project. Additionally, the Project Coordinator is the counterpart to the EPA Remedial Project Manager. Currently, I’m serving as the Project Coordinator for projects including the Solvents Recovery Service of New England (SRSNE) Site in Southington, CT; the Nuclear Metals, Inc. (NMI) Site in Concord, MA; Industri-plex OU2 in Woburn, MA; York Oil OU1 and OU2 in Moira, NY; and the Auburn Road Landfill in Londonderry, NH.” When asked why he enjoys working with REGENESIS, Thompson cites the company’s professional, technology-focused reputation. “REGENESIS brings an excellent technical approach to evaluating each site and tailors the application of their products to create a recipe to meet the unique site goals required,” he says. “I saw their PlumeStop® presentations at the 2016 and 2018 Battelle conferences and discussed the product with REGENESIS’ technical staff. The application of in-situ carbon for certain types of plumes made a lot of sense. I basically filed it away in my mental “tool box” to look at if the right need came up at one of our sites.” The SRSNE site was our first project to use PlumeStop®, and included REGENESIS’ Aqua ZVI™ product as well. The project went beyond dealing with low-concentration VOCs – adding PFAS to the contaminants needing to be addressed. Thompson continues, “Based on the success of that project, I proposed the use of PlumeStop® at an EPA Region II CERCLA site, where we had low concentrations of BTEX that needed to be treated. We just finished that injection last month.”

Although he has nearly three decades of experience under his belt, Thompson knows first-hand the importance of keeping up with new technologies in a constantly evolving industry. He routinely attends professional conferences, and notes that over the years he has had an opportunity to work with and learn from some great individuals in the remediation industry. When asked what he enjoys most about his work, he reflects on the satisfaction that comes with working on a project from start to finish. “The most rewarding part for me is seeing a project through the entire process,” he says. “I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to take several sites through the remedial investigation and feasibility study processes, and then through the remedial design and remedial action steps.” And the most demanding aspect? “Starting up a new site and trying to get my head around the myriad of issues, data, site conceptual modeling, and other elements of a large, challenging site. Large-scale, long-term sites are complex and have a lot of nuances to sort out.”

Issues Emerge, Get Traction, and Become Understood

When he’s not working, Thompson, who lives in Simsbury, CT with his wife, enjoys skiing. “I grew up in California and learned to ski in Tahoe,” he says. “It’s an activity I’ve been able to share and enjoy with both of our daughters. I also try to be a “slope chaperone” for an after-school ski club each January. We use all 625’ vertical feet of the Ski Sundown area in New Hartford, CT. It’s not much, but it is only 20 minutes away. We also explore Vermont and New Hampshire ski areas when we can.” In addition, he has mentored some high school students who have expressed interest in the environmental field. When asked how he’s seen the industry change over the years, Thompson responds by sharing his observations on contaminant identification and initial awareness. He continues, “I’ve watched the process of an issue emerge, get traction, and then become understood multiple times. For example, we delineated DNAPL (dense non-aqueous phase liquid) at one of my first projects in 1993. We hired a recent PhD named Bernie Kueper to help us understand this new type of problem before there was the guidance and books now available on the topic. Trichloroethylene has gone from being considered toxic to bacteria, to us now sending off samples for qPCR analysis to quantify the DHC that is degrading it. Next was 1,4-dioxane, and now we’re dealing with PFAS.” When it comes to the future of environmental remediation he points to the importance of efficient operations and maintenance. He concludes, “Due to the types of projects I am involved with, I feel there is a need to continue to optimize long-term operations and maintenance (O&M). All of my current sites have very long O&M horizons, so we want to be as cost-effective as we can over time.”

REGENESIS is proud to have Bruce Thompson, Sr. Project Director and board member of de maximis, inc., as a valued client in environmental remediation, and appreciates his expertise and ongoing efforts in providing successful remediation outcomes for REGENESIS and its clients.

Client Spotlight: Mike Gefell, Principal Scientist at Anchor QEA

Mike GefellFor Mike Gefell, Principal Scientist at Anchor QEA, a nationally recognized environmental and engineering consulting firm and valued REGENESIS client, understanding the complexities of groundwater and protecting this resource deserves great attention, and it is an aspect of our environment he has devoted his entire career to. His specialized field, known as quantitative hydrogeology, involves the analysis of hydrologic processes, including precipitation, groundwater flow, water-well yield, discharge to surface water, and water quality. With 29 years of industry experience in hydrogeology, Gefell has become a highly respected specialist. “I really enjoy quantitative hydrogeology,” says Gefell. “Collecting various types of data in the field, conducting technical evaluations to create a picture of what is happening at a site, and predicting outcomes based on the type of remediation implemented—it’s all quite fascinating. All my work focuses on protecting ecological and human receptors and water resources, and understanding the relationships between water and environmental risk.” He also appreciates the inherent and diverse challenges of environmental remediation. He continues, “I like the fact that hydrogeology is so complex, multifaceted, and highly variable from site to site—and it’s constantly changing.”

The Path to a Career in Quantitative Hydrogeology

Prior to joining Anchor QEA over three years ago, Gefell practiced quantitative hydrogeology with other environmental firms, with a focus on quantifying the flow of water and oily substances known as “non‑aqueous phase liquids” (NAPLs) through spaces in soil, sediment, and rock. Prior to working in the environmental industry, he earned his bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from Cornell University and a master’s degree in geology (with a focus on structural geology) from the University of California, Davis. However, it was not until after he earned his master’s degree that he decided on a career in environmental remediation. He shares, “When I finished grad school, the petroleum industry was in a lull, but I was fortunate to have a personal connection to a firm that was hiring new graduates with degrees in geology. The environmental industry had gotten started already, and it continued to grow after that.” For ongoing education and training, Gefell often attends conferences and participates in technical working groups for ITRC (Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council) and ASTM International. He continues, “I also attend the Battelle Chlorinated and Sediments conferences, RemTEC, the biennial MGP series, and NGWA meetings.”

An Innovative Remediation Design for PFAS and VOC Contamination

When asked what he likes most in working with REGENESIS, Gefell points to a unique relationship between both companies. He shares, “REGENESIS understood our team’s vision and collaborated with us to help realize our objectives.” With regard to recent successes using REGENESIS products, Gefell highlighted the SRSNE Superfund Site project, which was unique because of the manner in which PlumeStop® and AquaZVI™ were used. “These two REGENESIS products were injected into a system of subsurface, gravel-filled trenches,” he describes. “The trenches were designed to collect, convey, and distribute groundwater passively, without pumping. PlumeStop® and AquaZVI™ were selected because of their combined ability to treat PFAS and VOCs, allowing us to replace an expensive pump-and-treat system that had been operating continuously for 23 years. By injecting the treatment reagents into the engineered groundwater flow path, we eliminated guesswork about whether or not we would hit the target with the injections.” To ensure the project’s overall success, Gefell and his team designed a treatment zone to facilitate adequate water flow. He continues, “We created a treatment zone to our own specifications, and the affected groundwater has no choice but to flow through it for proper treatment. The hydraulic aspects of the design were interesting, and we used groundwater flow modeling to accomplish that. Also, a tiny yet important detail was the comparison between the size of particles in the PlumeStop® and AquaZVI™ injections versus the pore sizes within the natural soil. We successfully worked through that with REGENESIS to help ensure the groundwater would continue to flow freely through the system and into the downgradient soil.”

Residing in Golden, CO, where he works from Anchor QEA’s nearby office in Lakewood, CO, Gefell is married and has two sons. In his free time, he enjoys playing guitar and is especially a fan of vintage rock ‘n’ roll. He also finds time for biking, archery, skiing, hiking, and walking many of the trails near his home. In addition, he provides support to the Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and other organizations that serve environmental causes. He serves as the Technical Spotlight Editor for Groundwater journal, a leading international publication focused on groundwater and its role in the environment. When asked about the most rewarding aspect of his work, Gefell is quick to point to how much he enjoys working with smart, creative people to solve challenging problems, using new technologies and methods, while also having fun. And the most challenging aspect of his work? “The sheer complexity of the systems we study and the problems we solve—3D, time-variable with multiphase flow, chemical and biological complexities with evolving regulations, public sensitivities, client expectations, and demanding deadlines.”

When asked what he feels the future holds for environmental remediation, he says, “The purpose for remediation is to protect ecosystems and people from potentially harmful substances. As more toxicological testing is conducted, more will be learned about substances that are not yet regulated, and new ones will likely be added to the list at some point in the future. These emerging compounds will drive the next wave of remedial responses. The current focus on PFAS is a good example. I also believe remediation will continue to shift toward problems that are larger and more complex.”

REGENESIS is proud to have Mike Gefell, Principal Scientist at Anchor QEA, as a valued client in environmental remediation and appreciates his specialized knowledge and ongoing efforts in providing successful remediation outcomes for REGENESIS and its clients.