Brandee Era-Miller is a detective. She sleuths out poisons and detects their sources in her work as a natural resource scientist studying chemicals like pesticides, metals, and flame retardants. She recently spoke with our reporter.
What do you do at Ecology?
I am a natural resource scientist and have been with Ecology’s Environmental Assessment Program, Toxics Studies Unit for almost 19 years. I conduct toxics source assessments and characterization projects in waterbodies all over the state from Puget Sound to the Spokane River and many places in between. These studies have included analysis of toxics in water, stormwater, fish, biofilm (slime on rocks), sediment, and atmospheric deposition.
“Toxics” covers a wide range of chemicals, so I’ve studied many different chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, metals, flame retardants, and more. I’ve also worked on toxicity studies including a project where we placed trout eggs in hatch boxes instream and monitored the health of the trout as they grew into fry over the course of several weeks. How the trout responded and developed gave an indication of water quality at the site.
What gets you excited to go to work in the morning?
I am a jack of all trades. I have enjoyed working on so many different kinds of toxics studies. Spending time in different places all over the state has been amazing. Washington is incredibly beautiful! Many people both within and outside of Ecology use the data and information from our studies to guide their environmental decisions and to learn about the water quality in their watersheds. That makes my work feel important.
What advice do you have for women who want a career in science?
My advice for getting into a scientific field is to work hard in school and seek out internships, volunteer opportunities, and hands-on experience wherever you can. Besides at least a general degree in sciences, nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to getting your foot in the door.
My interest in environmental sciences started as kid, where I would spend all my time outside climbing trees and exploring the woods and nearby creeks. My mom also passed on her passion for the natural world to me. On camping trips, she would always stop and explain all the plants and aquatic insects to me. In high school I became involved in a program called the Envirothon
. Through that excellent program, I went on to compete nationally in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1993. In college, I had internships with the Chehalis Tribe’s natural resources department and with the city of Lacey’s water resources department.