Louise McMillan

Louise McMillan, Acting team Leader, Hazardous Substances standing in the Begonia House, Wellington Botanic Gardens

Louise McMillan, Acting Team Leader, Hazardous Substances standing in the Begonia House, Wellington Botanic Gardens

One of my interests is making science relevant to people and their lives. As Acting Team Leader in the Hazardous Substances and Reassessments team I have scope to do this, particularly through the work of the EPA’s community engagement group.

This group collaborates on projects which help us to meet our community engagement objectives. We are keen to engage with a wide range of New Zealanders and organisations, to hear what’s important to them and to think how best we can respond across the organisation.

I started off as a data collector in the Hazardous Substances Reassessments team. We were looking at the classifications of hundreds of chemicals that had been approved for use in New Zealand. We wanted to evaluate if their classification should be changed or withdrawn, or if the controls about safe usage needed updating. All in the interests of keeping New Zealanders safe and our environment protected.

I progressed to the role of advisor in one of our three Hazardous Substances teams:

"I helped to process applications in relation to importing hazardous substances, and dealt with everything from hazardous waste, to explosives, crayons, and pesticides."

Then I moved on to become Senior Advisor and acting Team Leader. My managers and colleagues have supported me all the way, and such career progression has brought with it new and exciting challenges. I have had the chance to work on amazingly interesting and significant projects. The highlight for me to date has been the chance to represent the EPA – and hence New Zealand – at working groups for Parties to the Montreal Protocol of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. This Protocol focuses on ozone-depleting gases and is one of the most successful environmental treaties of all time. It has been behind the progressive phase-out across the world of chlorofluorocarbons, halons and, most recently, hydrofluorocarbons.

"The broad goal is to literally save the planet."

The Kigali amendment to the Protocol focuses on the latter, which are potent greenhouse gases that warm the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Reducing levels of hydrofluorocarbons will avoid up to 0.5 degrees of global warming by 2100.

At last count, 197 nations have subscribed to the Montreal Protocol. So that means a wide range of political points of view and stages of development need to be taken into account. The broad goal is to literally save the planet. It just reinforces for me the significance of the work we contribute to. It can be frustrating where different parties have intractable views, but you just need to be creative in how you approach problem solving, so you can come up with unique solutions to unique problems.