A few years ago, the word "bioterrorism" seemed like something associated with science fiction, not a reality in our everyday lives. Since Sept. 11, bioterrorism has become, unfortunately, a common word in the English language. And industrial hygienists are finding themselves on the front line of the war against terrorism.

"This has always been a topic of awareness for OEHS professionals, but interest has really grown this year," said Richard A. Strano, executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). He said that there is tremendous interest in educational sessions about industrial hygiene involvement after 9/11 and cleanup if another attack occurs at the upcoming American Industrial Hygiene conference and exposition (AIHce), scheduled for the first week of June in San Diego.

Educational sessions at the conference will inform occupational safety and health professionals about industrial hygienists' clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and post offices affected by anthrax. Other sessions will highlight personal protective equipment for chemical-biological attacks, protecting clean-up workers after an attack and assessing the risk of an attack on an industry. There will be a demonstration of the equipment required for response to an attack with pre- staged dummies showing the use of treatment equipment in the triage and decontamination process. Exhibits will include a decontamination tent identical to the one the FBI requested in Salt Lake City in case of an attack at the Winter Olympics.

"Many people are unfamiliar with what industrial hygienists do," said Henry B. Lick, president of AIHA. "When you saw rescue workers in New York and Virginia wearing respirators and protective gear that looked like space suits, you saw industrial hygiene at work. When postal workers became ill from anthrax-laced and irradiated mail, industrial hygienists were called in to solve the problems. Industrial hygiene and OEHS are about protecting workers and individuals at home and at work, whether that work is in an office or a factory. Biological and chemical terrorism prevention and clean up is a small part of what we do - but that part is growing in visibility as the war on terrorism continues."

edited by Sandy Smith (ssmith@penton.com)