Eyes On the Prize in Toronto

Innovation is spotlighted at this year's conference and expo, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a return to Canada's "City of Creativity".

In the 10 years since the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists last held their annual conference and exposition in Toronto, the world has changed—often dramatically, more often subtly. One subtle change is that American attendees of AIHce 1999 did not have to carry their passports just to return home from the event, as they will for AIHce 2009, which convenes at the Toronto Convention Centre May 30 through June 4.

The evolution of the IH profession in the intervening years has meanwhile not been very subtle. A decade ago, AIHA and ACGIH expected 10,000 professionals from all parts of the globe to flock to Canada's largest city for the event. This year, given the economy and the decimated ranks of those in the industry, it is optimistic for the associations to expect half that number. Still, even with the rampant outsourcing and downsizing affecting the profession, there is no question that AIHce remains "the largest industrial hygiene gathering of the year," as the associations continue billing it, and no stops have been pulled for this 70th anniversary of the event.

Rocket Science

"In a down economy, quality is even more important," notes the Advance Program for AIHce 2009, stating the associations' awareness of the particular challenges they face in the current climate and their strategy for meeting and exceeding them in this "City of Creativity."The theme for this year's conference is "Discoveries Beyond Borders," and, judging by the program, the event will have quality to spare, with 151 technical sessions (21 more than last year) in 40 tracks, 80 Professional Development Courses, and an impressive lineup of keynote speakers.

Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., founder, chairman, and CEO of the Playa Vista, Calif.-based X PRIZE Foundation, will start things off with a blast with his delivery of  "Challenges, Progress, Innovation: Predicting the Future by Creating It" at the Opening Session on Monday, June 1, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Best known for offering the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private-sector manned spacefl ight, which Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and aviation designer Burt Rutan won in 2004, Diamandis' foundation is currently using the same competitive prize model to spur innovation in energy, genomics, nanotechnology, medicine, and other areas. The idea is that challenge, properly framed, can unleash innovation and overcome the obstacles of conventional thinking, bureaucratic red tape, and similar roadblocks to progress. According to the X PRIZE Web site, Diamandis' motto is, "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself, " words he has also put to action as chairman and CEO of the Vienna, Va.-based Zero Gravity Corp., a commercial space company developing private, FAA-certifi ed parabolic flight using a Boeing 727-200 aircraft, and as chairman and co-founder of the Rocket Racing league, headquartered in New York.

Inspired by Diamandis' philosophy of not waiting for government to solve the world's problems, conference planners created a new "Breakthrough Thinking" educational track for AIHce '09, and they will be offering the inaugural edition of an associated Breakthrough Thinking Prize to the individual or team who has the best idea for solving a current challenge facing OEHS professionals, given the guiding principles and design criteria set by AIHA. According to AIHA Executive Director Peter O'Neil, CAE, it is AIHce's version of the X PRIZE.

"Clearly, I don't have $10 million for a prize, but there are a lot of thorny issues that industrial hygiene professionals and related EHS professionals are faced with," O'Neil said. "For example, there is always this question out there about the U.S. regulatory environment. PELs haven't been updated since the '70s, the Europeans are now moving into the direction of REACH, the world's talking about hazard banding and control banding. What does this mean to the U.S. regulatory environment, and is it time to update PELs? Do you shelve PELs and go after something else? We started thinking about this, and then we went back to the Peter Diamandis breakthrough notion, and we thought why not have our own breakthrough sessions and really try to incentivize our membership and our attendees to form teams and come to some of these sessions with a thought of helping solve the problem. . . . We are trying to create an environment in which there can be some solution-oriented discussions and not just the 'Oh, the process is broken, why won't anybody fi x it?' Well, 'anybody' is me and you and the practicing industrial hygienist in this profession, which is exactly Diamandis' point. . . . He would say to us, 'I'll give you $10 million if you can do it.'"

In lieu of such a sum, the prize for the winning individual or team at AIHce is an expenses-paid trip to present the idea to the AIHA board of directors at its July 2009 strategic planning meeting in Denver. "The hope is that they've got such a winning idea that the board would approve it—whatever it is—and we fi gure out a way to make it happen," O'Neil said.

Crossing Borders

Tuesday's General Session, June 2, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., will feature Edward L. Quevedo, J.D., special counsel in Farella Braun + Martel's Environmental Law Department and chair of its Sustainability Group, speaking on "Sustainable Development Beyond Borders: Taking an Active and Meaningful Role in Advancing Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility in Your Organization." Quevedo, who also is on the faculty of the Dominican University of California's Green MBA Program in Sustainable Enterprise, will present an array of case studies designed to help attendees gain clarity around the often misunderstood concepts of sustainability, greenhousegas reduction, carbon neutrality, and related topics. Reverberations of his message will be felt throughout this greenest-ever AIHce. No fewer than 14 pre-conference courses, technical sessions, and PDCs are planned to provide illuminating variations on Quevedo's theme. In addition, the Expo Hall will feature a new "Green Pavilion" for exhibitors who make or provide eco-friendly products and services, and an Interactive Green Building display is planned.

Other highlights of the conference and expo include a return of the popular Unsolved IH Mysteries Workshop series, Monday through Wednesday from noon to 1:30 p.m. (advance registration is required); daily poster sessions; a CareerAdvantage Development Fair; the 25th annual AIHF Fun Run/Walk, benefi ting the American Industrial Hygiene Foundation; and extracurricular outings to such sites as Niagara Falls, the Gardiner Museum, and Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays (taking on the Los Angeles Angels June 2 at 7 p.m.). An exhibit hall fi lled with industry products and services and containing cyber message centers and a mock drug lab will open every weekday of the conference at 9 a.m. A virtual expo with searchable exhibitor listings is available at www.aiha.org/expo2009.htm.

Next year's conference returns stateside and will be held May 22-27 in Denver. For more information about the 2009 conference, including the number of CM, COC, and CEU points available for attendance, visit www.aiha.org. For information about passports, which as of June 1 all individuals will be required to hold to enter/reenter the United States, go to www.travel .state.gov.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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