“People with passion are the lifeblood of any career, bringing innovation and dedication that benefits all those around them.”
Determining safe levels of human exposure to the many chemicals and other substances in a state as vast and industrialized as Texas is a critically important – and seriously scrutinized – undertaking.
As a state agency charged with protecting public health and the environment, TCEQ is at the center of these important decisions.
TCEQ’s Toxicology, Risk Assessment, and Research Division, now led by Dr. Sabine Lange, oversees an array of chemical risk assessments – from water contamination events, remediation sites, and emissions from refineries and various chemical manufacturing facilities – to name just a few.
As the first woman to serve as the TCEQ’s Chief Toxicologist, Lange oversees toxicity factor derivation analyses on scores of chemicals, as well as the evaluation of air monitoring data as part of a multi-faceted review of air permit applications. She also participates in TCEQ’s response to emergencies.
Lange additionally serves an important role in conveying TCEQ’s analyses and decisions about chemical risk to the public, journalists, and the regulated community.
It’s a big job, and she knows it.
“It’s both an honor and a responsibility that I take very seriously,” she said recently, after her promotion to Chief Toxicologist following the retirement of Dr. Michael Honeycutt.
Refining the scientific methods used to determine toxicity levels of chemicals is squarely in the wheelhouse of any practicing regulatory toxicologist, and Lange is no exception.
Under such assessments, the determination of potentially adverse health effects in a person or a population usually stems from two crucial variables: the dose-response (the dose at which a chemical causes a health effect) and the exposure dose (the duration and concentration of the chemical that a person or population is exposed to).
Pioneering 15th century German physician and philosopher Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (aka, Paracelsus), summed it up this way:
“Alle Dinge sind Gift und nichts ist ohne Gift; allein die Dosis macht, dass ein Ding kein Gift ist” – “All things are poisonous, and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not poisonous.”
That 600-year-old axiom is often condensed to: “The dose makes the poison” – meaning, a substance can produce harmful effects only in a high enough concentration.
And that, in a nutshell, is what Sabine Lange’s work is all about. Employing her extensive education and training, substantial catalog of research, and on-the-job experience to study how, when, and under what conditions chemicals are injurious to human health and the environment. Then applying this information to decisions about chemical risks from water, air, and waste in Texas.
Lange is passionate about her work and is confident that TCEQ’s team of committed, world-class scientists have what it takes to tackle any challenge.
“People with passion are the lifeblood of any career, bringing innovation and dedication that benefits all those around them,” she notes.
Recently, during Women’s History Month, Lange was asked to comment on the sacrifice women have made to open the doors for future generations. Here’s what she had to say:
This month is for my grandmother, who had only a middle-school education. She emigrated to Canada from England after WWII, traveling by ship with three children under the age of five so those children could have a better life.
This month is for my mother (three years-old on that trip), who overcame sexism and gender discrimination to earn a Masters’ degree in plant genetics. And now here I am, with a PhD and a board-certification in Toxicology, working to protect public health and the environment in Texas.
To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.”
A native of central Canada, Dr. Lange received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario and completed a Ph. D in biochemistry and molecular carcinogenesis at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She remained at MD Anderson for five years to conduct post-doctoral training in cancer research.
Lange joined TCEQ in 2014 as a staff toxicologist, and subsequently was promoted to section manager, where she helped launch a research program aimed at furthering greater understanding of topics under the division’s purview.
In 2016 Dr. Lange passed the board exam to attain the status of a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology, a rare and prestigious distinction whose members are renowned for fostering a standard for professional competency in the field of toxicology.
She also has served on several EPA committees, including the chartered Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which reviews the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
When not at work, Lange enjoys horseback riding and spending time with her husband on their property outside of Elgin, where they care for an assortment of dogs, cats, and goats.
Photo Credit: TCEQ