Growing up on a 140-acre dairy farm in Ashtabula, Ohio, Jonathan Herrmann developed a healthy respect for the environment. “Our farm was just off Lake Erie,” he says. He helped milk the cows and spent a lot of time tromping the grounds.
So it wasn’t a surprise when Herrmann joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1975, working on projects like land reclamation and pollution prevention. Nor was it a surprise when he combined his respect for the land with his 1987 M.B.A. and his engineering degree to become director of the EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center in September.
Herrmann, based in Cincinnati, now supervises 45 people—chemists, microbiologists, researchers—who collect, research and develop information about how the nation prevents and responds to terrorist attacks on, primarily, the water systems. Their research focuses on protection, decontamination and disposal of hazardous materials, and assessing potential threats. They also test methods of detecting, responding to and eliminating biological weapons such as anthrax or pesticides in water or parasites like Cryptosporidium.
And one of their findings has already helped. His researchers tested the use of autoclave steaming to kill anthrax spores. It worked well in the lab, but when imported goat skins used by a man to make drums were found to be contaminated with natural anthrax spores, it was put to test in the field. And it worked. The autoclave method successfully eliminated the spores.
For Herrmann, it not only prevented a danger, but helped the environment. “Remember, those of us who grew up with the agency are environmentalists at heart,” he says. “Homeland security is another extension of the environmental mission of the agency.”