Peter Gorton, Public Health, '77

Peter Gorton received his bachelor's degree with a major in public health from UMass Amherst, and a Master's in Public Health from Yale University. Gorton is the founder and President of Panamerican Environmental, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in a broad range of environmental services including environmental assessment, planning, monitoring, regulatory compliance and permitting, and storm water and erosion control services and products.

Leaking Agent Orange Barrels at Johnston Atoll, circa 1973

Could you describe your professional career after leaving UMass Amherst, and how your education in public health helped you prepare for that career?

After leaving UMass Amherst I went to Yale University and then I took a job with Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E & E) in Buffalo, NY, for six years.

I worked on emergency chemical and oil spills and on federal Superfund sites across the country on the original Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Technical Assistance Teams (TATs) and Field Investigation Teams (FITs).

I was one of the original hazardous waste workers and was involved with the initial hazardous waste training.  I participated in over 100 site investigations and about 10 spills including working for 2 months on Johnston Island, a military base in the central Pacific Ocean, to sample for dioxin left from the storage there of Agent Orange from the Vietnam War. I spent many hours in levels B and C personnel protection and was involved with health and safety, sampling, air monitoring and project management. I also worked on a drill rig installing borings and groundwater monitoring wells. We sampled soils, water, air, lagoons, drums, tanks, pits, sumps, sewers, streams, lakes, etc.
After E & E I worked for Camp, Dresser & Mckee (CDM) in New Jersey and New York for four years on a Remedial Field Investigation Team for superfund sites, as well as private industrial clients including working on oil spill clean-ups.
From CDM I worked for Dames & Moore at a US Department of Energy facility in West Valley, NY, for eight years. I managed a group of scientists and engineers responsible for mixed radiological and chemical waste assessments, investigations and planning, including working on a major Environmental Impact Statement for site closure and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act facility investigations on 15 solid waste management units.
In 1997 I started Panamerican Environmental Inc., a small environmental consulting firm  in western New York which emphasizes property investigations, petroleum and chemical remediation and brownfields redevelopment. We always strive for quality work that is on time and within budget and we always try to add value to every project and to every clients project.
Do you have any advice for students today who are interested in pursuing work in your field?
Learn to communicate and learn both technical and proposal writing skills. Don’t be afraid to be an apprentice for a few years. I had a few internships with state and local health departments while I was going to school and in the summers – I highly recommend this.  

What is your most memorable moment at UMass Amherst?
As a member of the UMass wrestling team I had to make up classes when I missed for wrestling meets. Since I carried a full course load in math and science, I often had to make up chemistry lab. Once while making up two labs on a Saturday, I started a fire by mistakenly placing a Bunsen burner under a flask with a small amount of ether. The professor put out the flames and nothing really bad occurred. The next day I was in the lab making up the experiment again when a classmate did the same thing I did the day before. I put the fire out and was a hero.
Is there anything else you’d like your fellow alums to know about your life since you left UMass Amherst?
During undergrad and graduate school I worked on the back of a garbage truck – one of my best jobs and a great learning experience for first hand solid waste experience. Being a small business owner was the best choice of my life but working for major companies provided the necessary experience and base to open my own firm.

My education in public health at UMass Amherst was terrific in that it was broad and prepared me for the eventual broadness of the career I have followed – covering water and wastewater, toxicology, environmental pollution. I consider myself an environmental and public health professional and not an environmentalist.