My Path to Product Stewardship: Brigette Bartko
I had just obtained my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and possibly moving to the next semester to get my Master’s in Forensic Science and the Law when the economy tanked in 2008. I decided if I could get a job I would take it instead of going into more student loan debt. I accepted a position at ChemADVISOR, a consulting company in Pittsburgh. It turns out, that move was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
When I took the job, I had no idea what a regulatory compliance specialist was or what it would require. I started working on the LOLI database team and was responsible for advisory agency lists and standards. I quickly realized there was so much more to regulatory compliance and product stewardship than I originally thought. Once I started reading the regulations behind the lists of chemicals I dealt with, I realized I could use my love of the law and my science degree to be able to understand and interpret the regulations.
One thing I have learned over the years is that there’s a fine line when it comes to compliance, and our job as product stewards is to make sure the company knows the boundaries and walks the line. I think having an analytic mind is the best mindset for anyone who wants to go into product stewardship. You have to think through what a regulation means and how it will affect the business.
My next job was in more traditional Environmental Health and Safety, at Mitsubishi. While I like EHS, I missed the regulatory compliance aspect of product stewardship. I moved to Ferro, at the company’s largest manufacturing site, where I worked on everything from SDS labels to customs documentation and REACH compliance. Now I’m at Axiall, where the majority of my work focuses on pesticide registrations and REACH.
When friends, who are not in the field, ask what I do, I say, ‘When you see a tanker truck with the big diamond on the back or look at certain cleaning products in the stores and the directions for use and symbols, I’m the one making sure those are the right symbols and verbiage.’
There are so many different things you can focus on in product stewardship. I’ve even gone back to my old high school to speak on how people interested in sciences or the law can go into this field and make a good living, especially if you can get into an area of product stewardship that is specialized. There just aren’t many people who know about REACH, for instance. It’s nice to have a niche like that to rest on.