June 18, 2020

In Memoriam: Eula Bingham, 1929–2020

Industrial hygiene pioneer Eula Bingham passed away on June 13, less than a month before her 91st birthday. Bingham was a former head of OSHA and an honorary member of AIHA who spent her career in the service of worker health.

Born July 9, 1929, Bingham was raised on a farm in Kentucky during the Great Depression. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 1951 with a degree in biology and chemistry, she joined the Hilton-Davis Chemical Company in Cincinnati. Fires and chemical exposures at the plant introduced Bingham to the occupational hazards many workers faced at the time. After a year at Hilton-Davis, she left for post-graduate work at the University of Cincinnati, graduating with a master’s and PhD in 1958.

At the University of Cincinnati’s Kettering Laboratory, Bingham began researching issues in occupational health and safety. In 1973 she served on the Department of Labor Standards Advisory Committee on Carcinogens, whose purpose was to recommend controls to prevent workplace cancer. Two years later she chaired the Federal Research Standards Advisory Committee on Coke Ovens Emissions.

Nominated by several unions and other organizations to lead OSHA in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the president named her Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA in March 1977. She was the first woman to hold the position. At the time the agency was thought to be more concerned with what Bingham called “silly little rules” than with significant matters. She introduced “Common Sense Priorities” intended to redirect OSHA’s resources to addressing major health and safety issues, helping small businesses comply with OSHA regulations, and simplifying agency rules. During her term, Bingham eliminated approximately 1,100 regulations. She also hired more inspectors and worked to speed up the process of adopting new standards. Among OSHA’s achievements during Bingham’s term were the promulgation of new standards for cotton dust, lead, benzene, and three other industrial chemicals. Bingham is also credited with helping establish “Right to Know” regulations, which require that employers inform workers about the chemicals they work with and their hazards.

At the end of the Carter administration in 1981 Bingham returned to the University of Cincinnati, where she served as Vice President and Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska in March 1989, Alaska Governor Steve Cowper invited her to make sure cleanup workers were protected.

In the 1990s Bingham became involved with projects intended to determine whether construction workers employed by the Department of Energy to work on buildings related to the U.S. nuclear program had been exposed to dangerous chemicals or radiation. Because of the secrecy surrounding the program, no information about the workers’ exposures existed, so Bingham developed a method for reconstructing workers’ past exposures that involved the use of building blueprints, remodeling records, and interviews with workers.

From 1992 to 1997 Bingham served as the second president of the Collegium Ramazzini, an international organization that promotes occupational and environmental health. The group presented her with its highest honor, the Ramazzini Award, in 2000.

In 1995 Bingham became the first recipient of AIHA’s Alice Hamilton Award, which is presented to an outstanding woman who has made a definitive, lasting achievement in the field of occupational and environmental hygiene. She also received AIHA’s Henry F. Smyth Award in 1998 and was one of the small group of individuals who have been granted honorary membership in AIHA.

Bingham’s many awards and honors include the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization's Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, the American Public Health Association's Alice Hamilton Award in 1984, and the Rockefeller Foundation's Public Service Award in 1980.

President Carter said of Bingham 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."


Collegium Ramazzini: “Eulogy for Eula Bingham” (June 2020).

“Dr. Eula Bingham: A Brief Biography” (PDF).

U.S. Department of Labor: “Eula Bingham Administration, 1977-1981: Of Minnows, Whales and ‘Common Sense.’”