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Daniele Lantagne

Daniele teaches people around the world how to make their drinking water safe.

Daniele grew up in rural Washington state during a time when logging companies and environmental activists were bitterly contesting issues regarding the fate of endangered wildlife and some of the last pristine, old-growth forests in America. By the time she was a teenager, Daniele was a committed environmentalist, and she knew what she wanted to do with her life: protect the planet.

A Degree With Clout
Daniele thought about majoring in environmental science in college, but she realized that to really make a difference she needed the technical knowledge that engineering provided: "I would have the skill set to be both an engineer and a scientist, and could also be an environmentalist." She also knew that with the professional degree in environmental engineering came respect: "If I wasn't qualified to do the technical work, I wouldn't be listened to as much."

Protecting a River and Wildlife Sanctuary
After a brief stint working for a large engineering firm, Daniele found an engineering job that she loved: protecting the Ipswich River and its wildlife sanctuary in Massachusetts. She would evaluate, for example, whether or not chemicals found in the ground water were dangerous. Daniele worked closely with volunteers and local communities, using her engineering expertise to arm them with knowledge for addressing environmental problems. "I could work with people who were passionate about the environment, passionate about wanting to make Massachusetts a better place, and give them the technical information needed to do that."

 

From Massachusetts to Zambia
Daniele currently works as an environmental engineer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Her focus is now on public health, using her engineering degree to help bring safe drinking water to people around the world. More than a billion people—a sixth of the world's population—do not have access to safe drinking water, and about two million people, the majority of them children, die each year from cholera, typhoid, and other waterborne diseases. Daniele’s work is changing that, one community at a time.

Engineering Solutions That Work
In Bolivia, Angola, Nepal, and other countries in the developing world where Daniele has worked, she has evaluated the water sources, tested for contamination, and then designed a practical and inexpensive way for the local people to disinfect their water. The most simple engineering solution is often the best: poor families can’t afford to adopt a disinfecting process that is costly, complicated, or time-consuming. The solution has to work for a specific community, or else it isn’t a solution.

Teaching and Making a Difference
Whether equipping volunteers along the Ipswich River with the technical knowledge to fight pollution, or giving a community in Guyana the education and tools necessary for keeping their children healthy with safe drinking water, Daniele considers teaching an essential part of her job. "As a kid I wanted to be a teacher. In a lot of ways, I use engineering to teach, just not in a classroom." What she’s always loved the most about engineering is "helping people who want to make a change, make it."