AIHce Turns 70 with 'Discoveries Beyond Borders'

It has been 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, but in honor of the 70th anniversary of the event, the show returns to this "City of Creativity" at the end of the month. Appropriately, the theme for AIHce 2009, happening May 30 through June 4 at the Toronto Convention Centre, is "Discoveries Beyond Borders."

According to AIHA Executive Director Peter O'Neil, CAE, the "borders" the show will cross have less to do with the U.S/Canada border and more to do with education, enlightenment, and progress for the struggling industrial hygiene industry. The event will easily be the largest IH gathering of the year with its 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 spaceflight, which Microsoft co-founder 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-certified 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 O'Neil, 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 fix 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 figure out a way to make it happen," O'Neil said.

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