A Tribute to Eula Bingham, 1929–2020
We are sad to report that one of the titans of modern-day industrial hygiene and occupational health, Eula Bingham, passed away June 13, 2020, at the age of 90. Eula leaves behind her beloved family of three daughters, Julia Mattheis, Helen (Brett Visger), and Martha Mattheis; granddaughters Charlotte and Anna Visger; and many professional friends and colleagues.
Born in Covington, Kentucky in 1929, Eula earned a B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from Eastern Kentucky University, an M.S. in Physiology from the University of Cincinnati, and a PhD in Zoology, also from the University of Cincinnati.
She began her career in industrial hygiene at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1961 as a researcher doing pioneering work on chemical carcinogens. Eula was an authority on occupational disease and on cancer-causing substances. Over her lifetime, she contributed more than one hundred peer-reviewed articles on occupational and environmental respiratory hazards, chemical carcinogenesis, and occupational and environmental health policy.
Eula served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health from 1977 until 1981 under President Jimmy Carter and was the first woman to lead the agency responsible for ensuring the health and safety of millions of American workers. During her OSHA tenure, she led the agency on what was termed a set of “common sense priorities” focusing on serious problems in the workplace, helping small businesses comply with OSHA rules, and clarifying and simplifying safety rules. She led the charge to improve American worker health, issuing many new health standards for toxic chemicals and establishing the “New Directions Training Program,” which created grants for small businesses and worker groups to improve education about hazards in the workplace. The New Directions Training Program served as a model for the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in training their workers and communities.
Eula was also responsible for getting legislation passed giving workers access to their medical records that their employers had collected on them and to see the results of workplace exposure measurements. In summarizing Eula’s life and work, President Jimmy Carter stated in 2015, "I was fortunate to have many outstanding appointments in our administration, and Eula was one of the best. I always could count on her for sound and direct advice with the well-being of the American worker foremost in her mind. She helped eliminate barriers to women in the workforce and to make our nation's workforce stronger and more productive. Eula deserves credit as one of the unsung heroes giving women an important voice and a place in our nation's history. We all should be proud of her service to our country." For more insight into her philosophies and approach to occupational health, read the “Eula Bingham Administration, 1977–1981: Of Minnows, Whales and “Common Sense” on the website of the Department of Labor.
After leaving OSHA, Eula returned to the University of Cincinnati, serving as Vice President of Graduate Studies and Research until 1990. She remained active in the profession, conducting research in worker safety, including studies on construction workers employed by the U.S. Department of Energy in nuclear weapons production sites, which led to the creation of the DoE Former Worker Medical Screening Program. She was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Lead in Paint Commission and a scientific policy advisor to the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Over her impressive career in occupational health, she won numerous awards, including the Rockefeller Foundation Public Service Award (1980), AIHA’s Alice Hamilton Award (1984). She was the first recipient of the William Lloyd Award for Occupational Safety from the United Steel Workers (1984) and the David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health from the American Public Health Association (2000). In 1989, she was elected to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences. She also was a member of the Collegium Ramazzini, an international Occupational Health Working Group, and served on many federal, state, and local advisory committees.
Eula was beloved by all she came in contact with during her professional service with OSHA and the University of Cincinnati. AIHA Past President Frank Renshaw, another leader in our profession and one of her many graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, fondly remembers Eula: “Eula served as my curriculum advisor, and in this capacity organized my PhD qualifying exams. She was a fierce and tireless advocate for the rights and welfare of her students. Her door was always open, her advice and assistance in curriculum and thesis matters was invaluable, and she was eager to suggest and share her wealth of contacts with occupational and environmental health pacesetters around the world. Eula was the most approachable faculty member a student could ever wish for. She treated us as fellow professionals and as a friend, never forgetting a face, always engaging with a smile, encouragement, and an engaging sense of humor.”
Bob Lieckfield, Past President of AIHA’s Yuma Pacific Southwest Local Section, recalls having the honor of presenting Eula with YPSW’s prestigious Clayton Award in 2017 for longtime, outstanding service to the industrial hygiene profession. “While I had known Eula from afar for many years, having first met her at a Clayton event in 1980, I never had the opportunity to talk with her,” Lieckfield recalled. “Yes, I was intimidated having to call and give her the news that she was receiving the Clayton Award. She was so appreciative, and repeatedly thanked me for the honor and recognition by YPSW. She was so gracious and kind. Probably never occurred to her that it was my honor just to talk with her!”
The occupational health and safety profession salutes and celebrates Eula and her accomplishments. We owe a debt of gratitude to her and all the other health and safety pioneers who helped pave the path for worker safety and health. Eula, know that you will not be forgotten, and thank you.
Condolences may be sent to: 3547 Herschel View St., Cincinnati, OH 45208 USA.
U.S. Department of Labor: “Eula Bingham Administration, 1977-1981: Of Minnows, Whales and ‘Common Sense.”
Wikipedia: “Eula Bingham.”
A Helpful Professor and Colleague
Professor Bingham was extremely helpful to any student who need additional guidance, but my training occurred during her stint at OSHA, so I only learned about her talent in this area afterwards. However, I had the distinct pleasure of working with her on occasion during my time at US EPA, and she was always first on the list of go-to experts of my boss, Dr. Jerry Stara. Godspeed Professor Eula...By Michael L. Dourson on June 27, 2020 8:42am
THANK YOU EULA BINGHAM!!!
Eula Bingham was on the Admissions Committe at UC Graduate School in 1976. I was able to convince her to admit me as a provisional industrial hygiene student fall quarter 1976. I succeeded in Grad School and officially received my MS in 1978. I WILL FOREVER BE GRATEFUL FOR HER TO GIVE ME A CHANCE!!! I went on to have a very successful career at Caterpillar Inc in Peoria, IL, and instituted many many protective equipment, industrial controls, process changes, substitutions of chemical agents, etc, to protect occupational health of employees. When the Lead Standard was issued under Eula’s reign at OSHA, Caterpillar changed its famous yellow paint, worldwide, from a hexavalent chromium pigment base, to an iron oxide base! Eula was the BEST ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF LABOR FOR OSHA!!!! She eliminated many many silly regulations! She issued some of the MOST IMPORTANT OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH OSHA STANDARDS!!!By Gregory Williams on June 23, 2020 6:49pm
A beautiful tribute
She was a titan and inspiration to all health professionals. I never had the honor to meet her, but she was a role model I strove to emulate. She was a steady and practical inspiration to so many of us.By Doris Wunsch on June 23, 2020 4:32pm