Women in IH Making History

Dr. Eula Bingham

Dr. Eula Bingham was a trailblazer; a world-class researcher and a constructive disruptor.  Born in 1929 in Covington, KY, Dr. Bingham completed her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Kentucky in 1951. She earned her M.S. in Physiology from the University of Cincinnati in 1954 and in 1958, her Ph.D. in Zoology from the same institution.  

She started her career in cancer research at the U.C. College of Medicine in1961, where she conducted pioneering research on chemical carcinogens.  More than 100 peer-reviewed articles have been attributed to her addressing a range of occupational and environmental hygiene hazards. Building a reputation from her research in occupational health and safety, she launched her career as consultant and expert witness.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Dr. Bingham Director of OSHA; she served in this role from 1977 to 1981. She is credited with restoring OSHA’s credibility during her tenure, eliminating ‘nitpicking’ regulations and instead focusing on what she saw as critical health and safety risks. She strengthened regulations to protect workers against exposure to lead, benzene, cotton dust and other chemical agents and promulgated worker ‘right to know’ regulations to ensure workers would be knowledgeable about the hazards in their places of work. 

Following her tenure as OSHA Director, Dr. Bingham served as Vice President and Dean for Graduate Studies and Research from 1982 – 1990 at the University of Cincinnati. 

She worked with state legislators, labor unions and consumer groups to implement safety regulations, including consulting on the Exxon Valdez oil spill response and cleanup.

I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Bingham at a professional meeting in 2016.  She was then 86 years old, and still very much intellectually curious with a strong sense of duty towards worker health and safety.  She remarked to me about concerns for the people working at the fast food outlet where she bought her coffee while traveling to the meeting, and some ideas she had for designing a study to assess their health and safety risks.

At ESSI, we are conducting applied research to improve the health and wellbeing of workers and the communities in which they live, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety and our Industrial Hygiene program. Our students contribute to that research and in doing so, develop the knowledge and skills they will need to become the leaders and luminaries of tomorrow.  Find out more here! (https://essi.umn.edu/about/)

By Susan Arnold