Ammonium nitrate is some seriously horrible stuff. Especially when handled or stored improperly, it explodes and destroys like a small atomic weapon. And it is just one of many hazardous chemicals and materials that my wife has worked to prevent from harming or killing people for the last ten years. When my wife leaves for work, whether it’s in China, Iowa, or just down the street, I said goodbye knowing there was a chance she might not come back.
As a chemical engineer (she’s still a Rocket Scientist to me), my wife has led process safety initiatives around the world to prevent hazardous manufacturing facilities from blowing up or releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment. Her job has been to find faults and failure points in manufacturing processes that use deadly chemicals and materials. From oil to ammonium nitrate, food additives to dynamite, she has a full portfolio of prevented catastrophe.
Her work is primarily done in data, following a process from start to finish looking for anything that would create a weakness in the infrastructure or process that would result in death. Then, when she’s able to “kill people” in the numbers, she collaborates with a group of people to determine how to prevent that from ever happening. And they work upstream until the fix is found. This process is repeated inch by inch from hops to beer, fossils to gasoline, or deadly chemicals to food additives. And since the Rocket Scientist does not take shit from anyone—especially old white guys—nobody goes home until the cell in the spreadsheet gets to green.
As much of her job is in the virtual realm, she still has to inspect facilities in the field in areas that are marked to indicate immediate death if a valve is mistakenly open and gas is released. You might be thinking that those things rarely happen, but it’s incredible to me how many times a chemical like ammonia is accidentally released, and the public-at-large doesn’t know a thing. Most of the time, she works in a trailer about 200 yards from danger close, but when these places blow up, it’s never far enough away.
These situations have gone through my head each and every time she said goodbye and wished me a good day while walking out the door. I don’t think I have to tell you how much it sucks knowing that your significant other might not make it back from something as mundane as going to work. After many years of urging for a career change, the time has finally come, and I could not be more thankful and happier for her.
As of today, where the sun sits in the sky, On the Day of our Lord, June 1, 2021, Stardate 99015.22, the Rocket Scientist no longer works in the oil business. She will no longer help create cereal that remains crunchy after an hour in milk. No more beer brewing, dynamite making, or trips to that absolute shit hole known as Gary, Indiana. And she sure as hell will never again travel 26 hours to Kenai, Alaska and back just to have a four-hour meeting in person because the old white guys don’t know how to work Zoom (true story). Those days are now behind us—Forever. Piss-off!
More data will be provided in the future about her next chapter, but for now, I’m so glad that she didn’t have to walk through that door this morning and head for danger.
On a side note: Last week, she cleaned out her office, and now we have a pair of full-mask respirators, fire-proof coveralls, and a pair of steel-toed Doc Martens in the house. Add a three-legged dog, a sawed-off shotgun, and a dusty half-bottle of bourbon, and we’re ready for the next post-war apocalypse.