OH: Are you seeing changes in the issues industrial hygienists (IHs) are dealing with?
Garber: Well, of course, subsequent to Sept. 11, everybody is concerned about terrorism and the biological and chemical agents that might be used by terrorists, and how to prepare for that. Over the last several years, there has been a trend to dealing with indoor air quality problems and ergonomics. Yes, the profession is changing somewhat. As we see jobs going from the manufacturing sector to the service sector, we see a change in the types of tasks that industrial hygienists take on.
OH: Regarding indoor air quality (IAQ), are IHs dealing with actual health issues or with nuisance issues such as a bad smell?
Garber: I think it's a combination of both, but I don't think that is anything unique to indoor air quality. A lot of the work industrial hygienists have done over the years has been to reassure people that their workplace is being carefully monitored and carefully controlled. It isn't just in the IAQ arena that sometimes people get concerned about things where perhaps the magnitude of the hazard is not that great. On the other hand, sometimes people don't get concerned where they really should be concerned.
When he is not educating the next generation of industrial hygienists at the University of New Haven, Brad Garber, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, is busy with his duties as chair of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). With a highly public fight over Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) behind him, he is turning his attention to shoring up ACGIH's membership, improving its finances and developing new educational programs.
OH: If I am in private industry, why would I want to join ACGIH?
Garber: We have some very important activities that need support. One is the TLVs. Before becoming a professor, I worked for a large multinational corporation, and we used the TLVs. It was the corporate policy to use the TLVs or OSHA's PELs for exposure assessment. We would use whichever one was more stringent. There are many companies that are doing the same. People who use the TLVs and that is practically everybody have an interest in supporting the organization that produces them.
OH: Are IHs in government and academia seeing their jobs go through significant changes?
Garber: There has been a lot of talk about broadening our scope. Many people who work in industrial hygiene have taken on environmental and safety responsibilities. Although individuals are called on to do more and to have a broader scope, I think there is still a very pressing need to have specialists such as industrial hygienists to deal with the occupational health part of occupational safety and health. The issues are so complex and difficult to deal with that those of us who are generalists really can't be experts in all the different aspects of industrial hygiene. Maybe the balance has changed some, but there will always be a need for the traditional industrial hygienist.
OH: Do you see any lasting impact on members or the organization from the 9/11 tragedy?
Garber: I think there will be a lasting effect. Many of the technologies and techniques that industrial hygienists have developed over the years are directly applicable to dealing with the types of chemical or biological agents that might be employed in terrorism, or the types of exposures that occurred subsequent to the collapse of the World Trade Center. In industrial hygiene, a lot of what we have to do has direct relevance to protecting people from these types of things. Dealing with these types of issues is something that is going to be with us for a long, long time to come.
OH: Bring us up to date on the TLV issue. Where do things stand now?
Garber: All three lawsuits that were filed against the ACGIH have been resolved. We've had to tighten up our procedures so that they could undergo the type of scrutiny that tends to take place when you have legal proceedings. We have produced a statement that addresses exactly how we feel the TLVs should be used and what they are intended for. We have worked on an operations manual for our chemical substances committee. We are putting together a forum for AIHce in San Diego. We are doing a lot in the area of communications, as well as documenting our internal procedures to make sure that people are sufficiently informed as to how we produce TLVs.
OH: Will there be a chill regarding the substances ACGIH chooses to deal with because you now realize the organization could be sued?
Garber: I hope not. One thing the chemical substances/TLV committee has done is put together a subcommittee that looks specifically at the issue of choosing substances for study or for candidacy for TLVs. They try and make the process as rational and as free from these outside influences as possible. Yes, these types of lawsuits in theory could have a chilling effect, not just on the ACGIH but on anybody else who develops guidelines and standards. Certainly, NSC, ANSI and other organizations that develop guidelines and standards have paid attention to this particular case, and they are also embroiled in problems of their own. It is not a good thing, but maybe it is just a reality of doing business in this particular area these days.