Around this time last year, when other students traveled to exotic spring break destinations, I headed to Lansing, Mich., to the state police headquarters to complete a 40-hour EPA HAZWOPER class to become a certified HAZMAT technician. While many of my fellow students at the University of Michigan School of Public Health were donning bathing suits, I was donning a Tyvek suit. Even so, I still had a blast with my fellow industrial hygiene students as we performed mock scenarios identifying hazardous materials in a methamphetamine lab and abandoned waste sites.
While my spring break was spent learning such things as the proper technique for moving a leaking 55-gallon drum rather than relaxing on a beach, it did allow me to keep my Level A fully encapsulated suit after my week of training was complete. A used HAZMAT suit might not sound like anything one would want to keep as a souvenir, but my Level A suit has actually served a great purpose this year.
That HAZMAT suit, in a small way, has begun to unite the 26 different American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) student local sections around the country. Many IH programs have developed their own AIHA student local sections to promote the industrial hygiene profession and to develop its members within their college campus and the surrounding community. The problem, however, is that these student local sections have no interaction with each other and therefore never learn about the great things their fellow student local sections are doing. This year, I was elected Chair of the AIHA Student Local Section Council (SLSC), and my main goal was to change this lack of communication and create a more unified group of IH student sections. Oddly enough, this is where my used Level A Hazmat suit from spring break last year came into play.
Instead of my suit sitting in the basement of my Ann Arbor apartment all year, it has been traveling around the country to the various IH student local sections. Each school decorates the suit, takes a picture of their IH students with the suit and then shares information about what their student section has been doing in the past year. This information circulates through the AIHA Students and Early Career Professionals LinkedIn page and an AIHA SLSC Digest that was started this year.
The traveling HAZMAT suit will end its journey at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce) 2012 in Indianapolis in June, and will be on display at the expo for all IH students and professionals to see. While I’m slightly jealous of some of the destinations my suit travels to (for example, its next stop is UCLA!), it has been quite the fun project to follow. And to think that it all started with my very different spring break last year.
If you would like to see where the suit has traveled to and learn more about these student local sections, please check out the most recent edition of the AIHA SLSC Digest.
Mary Ellen Hicks was named the 2011 Future Leader in EHS runner up. She is working toward her Master of Public Health in Industrial Hygiene and Hazardous Substances at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Following graduation in April 2012, Mary Ellen will be employed as the industrial hygienist at Alcoa's plant in Chandler, Ariz. Learn more about Mary Ellen here.