History of the New England Chapter of the SRA

The New England Chapter of the SRA, SRA-NE, is actually an amalgamation of two local groups that had been meeting in the late 1980’s: the original SRA-NE and the Boston Risk Assessment Group (BRAG). The current culture of SRA-NE stems more from its roots in BRAG, so both organizations need to be described.

In the 1980’s, the local chapter of SRA was composed of Boston-based members of the National Society for Risk Analysis. During its early years, it was chaired by Yee Cho, an environmental engineer. It met on a regular basis over dinner in a restaurant setting, and covered topics oriented towards policy/management and “big picture” philosophical issues.

Dale Hattis convened the first meeting of BRAG at the request of several people in state government, at a seminar room at MIT sometime in 1986. BRAG was a forum in which people  “involved in doing risk assessments of various kinds could exchange their experiences in confronting the nitty gritty analytical issues.” (letter written by Dale Hattis, November 20, 1989). Dale went on to describe BRAG as “a totally ad hoc arrangement in which I usually bring the cookies and schedule the room, the kind folks at NESCAUM send out the announcements, and invitations to talk are extended with the help of a small self-selected group.” That self-selected group included National SRA members Dale Hattis, Charlie Menzie, Dave Burmaster, and Harlee Strauss, all of whom were later elected president of the local chapter (sometime serving more than one term).
The “kind folks at NESCAUM were Jane Teas and Margaret Round (also, at that time, at New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.

BRAG met once a month from September to June, and usually drew about 25 people to its meetings. While the majority of attendees came from the greater Boston area, several people regularly drove in from Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Some of the 1986 talks were: Low Dose Extrapolation by John Bailer and a Health Based Risk Assessment for Seasonal Chlorination Practices in New Hampshire, by Eleanor Robinson of the NH DPH. Barbara Beck (then at Region I US EPA, now at Gradient) gave our first dioxin talk in January 1987: Comparison of Three Risk Assessments for Dioxin Contaminated Soil:  It’s a Dirty Job But Someone Has Got to Do It. Joel Schwarz of HSPH ended the 1987 years with his talk on Cost Benefit Analysis for the Phasedown of Lead in Gasoline.

Dale Hattis organized the first joint meeting of BRAG and SRA-NE in December 1989 with an afternoon talk sponsored by BRAG (Michael Hutcheson of MA DEP talking about Assessing Risks for Incineration Facilities) and an evening talk sponsored by SRA-NE (John Ehrenfeld of MIT talking about Unlocking Siting Disputes). There was an hour-long break for dinner: Chinese takeout. Our current meeting format evolved from this joining of groups to its current, usual format of two back-to-back talks in the late afternoon (4:30-6:30P).

Harlee Strauss initiated the newsletter, Back of the Envelope (Dale Hattis came up with the winning name) in September, 1991. The November 1991 newsletter asked that people respond positively to stay on the mailing list, as it had grown to over 300 names. By then, BRAG/SRA-NE was really one group, and SRA-NE chapter dues were collected. Yee Cho was treasurer. Harlee wrote the newsletter until about 1993 when Christine Rioux (CDM) took over the honors. The newsletter passed to a third editor, Marilyn Lourandos, in the late 1990’s. The newsletter continues to be distributed about 10 times a year. We switched to a mostly email distribution system in fall of 2000.