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Diving in, digging down,
by Robert W. Smith
Photo by Emma Dodge Hanson
Passaretti '80 and her crew drill beneath a gas station on Saratoga's west side.
resourceful woman succeeding in improbable placesthats Mary
Passaretti 80: soccer trailblazer, petroleum research diver, and
flourishing founder of Passaretti Geological & Environmental Consultants.
that led her to launch the Skidmore womens soccer club and to learn deep-sea
diving two decades ago is still a key to the respect she enjoys today in the competitive,
male-dominated world of environmental geology.
eight-year-old, 10-person firm, headquartered in Saratoga Springs, cleans up oil
spillsusually slow leaks from underground tanks at gas stations, not the
dramatic Exxon Valdez kind. Her subsurface soil and groundwater investigations
may lead to the removal of a tank or the design and installation of a remediation
system to treat the contamination. Stewarts and Extra Mart, the self-serve
gasoline and convenience stores, and Congress Gas and Oil are three of her biggest
clients; in addition, banks use her services for environmental site assessments
before they make loans on commercial properties.
In 1995, Passaretti
started a second business when she and engineer Fil L. Fina Jr. formed Aztech
Technologies, which is a New York State Department of Energy Conservation contractor,
working on DEC-funded projects. DEC tells Passaretti that her firms have more
clients, and more spills to clean up, than any other Capital Region contractor.
Given the intense business climate in her field, she observes, "Im
sure that creates a lot of jealousy." She knows of several firms that "feel
really threatened by the fact that a woman geologist has so much work."
But being a woman
in a mans world, she says, "has not been a problem for me. I imagine
there are some women whod get walked all over in this business. But Im
not one of them!"a statement she punctuates with a hearty laugh. Besides,
Passaretti has more than pluck going for her. Honesty, for one thing. "This
business can be a license to steal," she says. "I cant tell you
how many dishonest contractors there are. Thats probably the number-one
reason I have so much work: Im honest and that reputation is far ahead of
me. All my business comes from word of mouth by satisfied customers."
the real reward for her comes when she knows shes saved a client money and
met DEC requirements without compromising the environment. "Doing all that
together is tricky," she admits, but says she manages to pull it off "99
percent of the time."
As a teenager,
Passaretti enjoyed rock-climbing lessons taught by a geologist at the White Mountain
School in New Hampshire, and she formed a school geology club. Once at Skidmore,
"geology was a turning point for me," she recalls. Professors Kenneth
Johnson and John Thomas were "great," and the Capital Region offered
excellent field experience. Success in geology (including departmental honors)
led to a January-term internship at Amoco Oil in Tulsa, Okla. There she produced
the first book on identifying minerals and types of sedimentary change using a
scanning electron microscope; Amoco hired her immediately.
by Emma Dodge Hanson
gets down to business with a colleague.
a job that would keep me outside," Passaretti says, but as a research geologist
for three firms, "I ended up looking in microscopes for eight years."
Of course she didnt spend all her time indoors. Her second employer,
Cities Service, sent her diving: offshore Belize, the Bahamas, and "less
glamorously, offshore New Jersey," she says. "Drilling cores into ancient
rock, we found a lot of oil stored in coarse-grain limestones off the Bahamas."
Those experiences formed the basis of her masters thesis as a night-school
student at Tulsa University. When she wasnt in the lab, in the ocean, or
in class, Passaretti played soccer in a rugged semiprofessional leagueback
when some of the media darlings of todays womens soccer had only a
diaper to show off. Passaretti can exhibit 11 scars from knee surgeries.
agrees with the license-plate slogan "Oklahoma is OK," she was eager
to get back east, and in October 1989 she landed a job with an Albany-area environmental
Now with two businesses
to run (and daughters Makayla, five, and Savannah, two, to raise on her own),
Passaretti is looking to settle into something solidlike waste water. She
points out that Environmental Protection Agency regulations are succeeding in
reducing oil spillsand the cleanup work that goes with them. So now, "were
working on developing equipment that will treat waste water from municipal landfills
or industrial areas. That stuff will always be going on," she predicts. "Ideally,
Id like to get into a business where at the end of the day someone says
thank you. "
find it. She is, after all, a resourceful woman seeking an improbable place.
Freelance writer Bob Smith has also profiled ecotourism
and wind-turbine entrepreneurs for Scope.