Anne McDonough

Anne McDonough grew up in State College, Pennsylvania. At Pennsylvania State University she majored in biology and environment and in education. She now teaches science at Wissahickon High School. Her husband is also in the sciences. To be close to their jobs they settled in Ambler. Though they knew about the area’s asbestos-containing waste, they decided that the EPA’s remediation had the risk under control. McDonough says that as a scientist she is more concerned about the unknown substances in our everyday lives than about the remediated asbestos. In the case of the proposed high-rise, though, she thought that digging would send the asbestos airborne, at which point it would become dangerous. She was chosen for the REACH teaching project; it is a three-year science course for high-school students that she hopes will teach students when and how to become active in their communities, as well as basic science concepts. McDonough talks a little about the improved economic situation and the increase in college-bound high-school students in Ambler. She credits the citizens of the various affected boroughs and townships with identifying the asbestos danger and with successfully petitioning for inclusion on the EPA’s National Priorities List. She emphasizes the importance of communication between EPA and community.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0933
No. of pages: 24
Minutes: 70

Interview Sessions

Lee Sullivan Berry
20 January 2014
McDonough Home, Ambler, Pennsylvania

Abstract of Interview

Anne McDonough grew up in State College, Pennsylvania, the youngest of four daughters. At Pennsylvania State University she majored in biology and environment and in education. She now teaches science at Wissahickon High School. Her husband is a biomedical engineer and pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. To be close to their jobs they settled in Ambler, which also had the advantage of a small-town feel. Though they knew about the area’s asbestos-containing waste, they decided that the EPA’s remediation had the risk under control. McDonough says that as a scientist she is more concerned about the unknown substances in our everyday lives than about the remediated asbestos. Risk is everywhere, she believes, but people should not live in fear. In the case of the proposed high-rise, though, she thought that digging would send the asbestos airborne, at which point it would become dangerous. McDonough regards her role as being an educator. She was chosen for the REACH teaching project, which involved setting up a website about asbestos; it is a three-year science course for high-school students that she hopes will teach students when and how to become active in their communities, as well as basic science concepts. McDonough talks a little about the changes she has seen since she moved to Ambler, especially the improved economic situation and the increase in college-bound high-school students. She credits the citizens of the various affected boroughs and townships with identifying the asbestos danger and with successfully petitioning for inclusion on the EPA’s National Priorities List; she acknowledges the ongoing oversight by the community. She believes that containment with continuous air monitoring is the best solution. She emphasizes the importance of communication between EPA and community.

Table of Contents

Biographical Information
1

Grows up in State College, Pennsylvania. Interest in science; attends Junior Conservation Camp and alternative school for last year of high school. Pennsylvania State University, majoring in science education, specializing in biology and environment. Teaches science at Wissahickon High School. Husband pulmonologist/biomedical engineer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Ambler Then
2

Moves to Ambler for family. Small-town, community feel. Knowledge of asbestos risk. Restoration of Ambler Theater and downtown area. Influx of pharmaceutical companies and concomitant higher expectations for school system. Watershed project for high-school students. Begins after Ambler removed from NPL.

Involvement with Ambler’s Problems
8

Potential high-rise development worrisome. Belongs to Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association; does not attend CAG meetings. Believes community involvement and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring make Ambler as safe as possible. Thinks people should not live in fear, but be cognizant of risks. Would teach facts, let people determine own behavior. Thinks remediation keeps risk minimal; daily risks from unknown substances more worrisome.

Present-day Ambler
15

Challenges from economic and social disparity. More district children going to college. REACH teaching project: setting up website about asbestos; project runs from ninth through eleventh grades. Hopes students will learn when and how to get involved. Education still mostly traditional, but becoming more relevant.

Community Activism
20

Citizens bringing in EPA. Remediation successful, but monitoring continuing, keeping current with new science. Containment best solution. Use area as open space, but monitoring air continuously. Importance of EPA flyers and other communications.

Index
24

About the Interviewer

Lee Sullivan Berry

Lee Sullivan Berry earned a master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of Notre Dame, and a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As a staff member in the Center for Oral History, Berry conducts background research and oral history interviews, edits transcripts of completed interviews, and coordinates with interviewers and interviewees to finalize transcripts. She was the lead interviewer for the REACH Ambler project and has presented her work at meetings of the American Society for Environmental History and Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region.