June 25, 2020 / John Baker

Proud to Be an IH: Decades of Impact

In 1971, I started my career with the Air Pollution Control Division of the Erie County, New York, Health Department. Although back then my peers and I didn’t use these exact terms, we used the industrial hygienist’s principles of anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control, and confirmation to reduce public exposures to harmful materials. Among our significant achievements during this period, we addressed worker exposure to particulates and toxic metals by working with the local industries to improve the operation of electrostatic precipitators and other air pollution control devices. By sealing closed single-chamber incinerators in apartment buildings and supermarkets, we limited the public’s exposure to particulates as well, and we also measured air pollutants throughout the country and conducted public educational outreach. Our outcomes included community noise control and better ambient air quality in the community and on private property.

In the second phase of my career, from 1975 to 1987, I was an "environmental health engineer" at Bethlehem Steel. Even in the mid-1970s, we had engineered local exhaust ventilation and medical surveillance to control lead and selenium exposures to workers involved with pouring molten steel. Working closely with local unions, we encouraged worker participation and acceptance of control measures. Since then, I have used the principles of industrial hygiene to assess the risk to public and worker health from the investigation and remediation of contaminated sites, including identification of organic mercury in public parks, as well as traditional worker exposures in manufacturing industries.

In recent years, I have created and adapted exposure monitoring approaches for nanomaterials and ultrafine particles. It has awed me to see how the people I and other IHs affected, from individual workers and members of the public to product engineers and materials scientists, have appreciated the protection of their health and the improvement of processes due to industrial hygiene.

When I tell young people that there is a career waiting for them that uses science and communication skills to improve people's health and well-being, they are intrigued and want to know more. I am proud to be an IH, and even prouder that the next generation will take our profession farther than we dared expect.

John Baker

John Baker, CIH, FAIHA, is a Principal Consultant for BSI EHS Services and Solutions with over 40 years of experience in industrial hygiene and environmental management.


The Virtue of Perseverance

John, Your nice testimony touches me. I also started my career of occupational hygienist in 1971, in Switzerland after being trained in the brand new NIOSH in Cincinnati and I was appointed by the Health Department of the Swiss Canton where I was living, as a "toxicologist" since the industrial hygiene profession was totally unknown at that time ! 50 years later it has improved a lot !

By Michel Guillemin on June 26, 2020 3:05am

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