Engineering Experts

Allen Reilly

Senior Environmental Scientist
Environmental Science
United States of America

Allen Reilly


 Allen Reilly traces the beginning of a lifetime of work on risk assessment projects back to his boyhood love of the ocean. Growing up outside Boston and taking trips to Cape Cod, he developed an interest in marine biology that led to a summer internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. But dreams of a career studying the ocean ended there. “One of the things I learned from my time in the lab was that I was not cut out for research,” Allen admits. Seeking a more applied career, Allen began working in the late 1980s with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Marine and Estuarine Protection. One of his projects related to a lawsuit brought by the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, against Boston for release of raw sewage into the Atlantic Ocean. Allen conducted a risk assessment on ingestion of local shellfish, ultimately concluding that cancer risks were significantly increased as a result. “At the time, there was no formal definition of risk assessment,” Allen says, noting that “the science was still evolving.” Despite this—or maybe because of it—he found himself fascinated by the field, which helped chart a course for his career. Fast-forward a few decades. Allen struggles when asked to choose a single memorable project from more than 20 years of work with Horizon Environmental Consulting—there have been so many, he explains. He grows enthusiastic, though, when describing the challenges associated with a recent project for a confidential client that involved “navigating uncharted waters” to develop a process to assess risk at a former chemical manufacturing plant. A significant fraction of chemical oxygen demand (COD) in the groundwater was not accounted for by chemicals detectable by standard environmental scans or for which there were promulgated cleanup criteria. Given the vast number of potential unknown compounds, Allen’s team developed an innovative approach. “We proposed a surrogacy approach that reduced an initial inventory of over 200 chemicals used, stored or produced at the plant to just eight compounds based on an evaluation of production volume or history, toxicity, and fate and transport characteristics,” Allen explains. “Using these for the analysis, we can extrapolate potential risks for the complete chemical inventory.” The approach was approved by the state of Michigan in 2014, enabling the project and site cleanup to move forward. “Approaches like these have great potential for use at other sites with unidentified compounds,” Allen says, noting that “they enable us to assess and manage risk even where our ability to test for or develop criteria for every compound that may be present is limited.” In his spare time, Allen again finds himself by the water—strolling the shores of Lake Michigan with his wife and throwing sticks for their energetic dog, an activity he characterizes as “great stress relief for both of us.”

Research Interest

 Marine biology 

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