Thomas Lavergne (BE’16), from St. Louis, Sask., didn’t have a career in environmental engineering in mind when he was growing up, but things changed shortly after high school.
Lavergne was in Toronto, Ont. when he stumbled upon the Evergreen Brick Works remediation project. The project redeveloped the abandoned Don Valley Brick Works factory site and quarry into a community space, farmer’s market and park.
Lavergne was able to visit the site through a self-guided tour and saw the positive changes the remediation project made to the physical landscape. This sparked his interest in environmental engineering and in 2012 he enrolled in the College of Engineering at USask.
After graduating, Lavergne was hired as an associate engineer-in-training at the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC). Here, he is currently working on Project CLEANS.
“We're responsible for cleaning up 37 abandoned uranium mine and mill sites in northern Saskatchewan. My part of the job is mainly focused on environmental assessment of these sites and the continued environmental monitoring,” said Lavergne.
Lavergne’s job includes surface and ground water sampling, as well as general site investigation.
He explains the project is very important because these mine and mill sites have public safety concerns, which include mine openings and hazards to the environmental health of the areas. Lavergne and his team are currently working through different stages at each site; some are already in post-remediation monitoring, some in active remediation, while others are still being assessed. They come across unique issues at each one.
“One of the biggest environmental and public safety risks are the unconfined tailings areas at two of the mills. Tailings were the waste product from the mill, which were at the time just dumped freely into low-lying areas. Since closure of the mills, the tailings were free to migrate and spread out in the environment, including into water bodies,” said Lavergne.
Along with his work with Project CLEANS, Lavergne is also working on a project he started before he was officially an employee at SRC.
In 2015, between his third and fourth year at USask, Lavergne had the opportunity to be the first summer student in SRC’s Aboriginal Mentorship Program. This program exposed Lavergne to SRC and helped launch his career.
“When I was a summer student, I was asked to imagine what a Student Environmental Monitoring Program with Project CLEANS would look like. Then when I graduated, all the stars aligned and I was asked to implement the program I designed,” said Lavergne.
The program, which happens during the summer, takes three to five participants from northern communities to one of SRC’s remediation sites for five days. The participants get to learn from Lavergne and others at SRC as they conduct their regular monitoring program.
“I pair the monitoring component with a bit of instruction and background information related to environmental science and in particular remediation projects,” said Lavergne. “During the program they get to also be exposed to all the other different professions and trades that are present at our sites. So they get exposed to a wide variety of things that are involved in a remediation project of this scale.”
Lavergne said the program has been a success since its inception and it plans to go forward into the summer of 2019.
“Every year we learn a little bit and figure out how to make the program better. The reception from the participants and the communities that they come from has been really good,” said Lavergne. “And usually one or two participants each year really express an interest in pursuing environmental sciences further, which is very gratifying.”
As for Lavergne, his goals for the future are to obtain his professional engineering designation, which he is about a year out from getting, and continue to help his team complete Project CLEANS.
“I do feel very fortunate to be working in a field that I'm very interested in and that I had the goal of entering when I first decided to go to USask. I just feel lucky to be doing what I enjoy,” said Lavergne.