Ellenbecker Honored for Improving Public Welfare

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Prof. Mike Ellenbecker was recognized for his lifetime work to improve worker health and safety.

By Karen Angelo

Prof. Emeritus Michael Ellenbecker of Work Environment has won the prestigious Henry F. Smyth Jr. Award, an honor bestowed annually by the American Industrial Hygiene Association to an individual who has gone above and beyond in contributing to the improvement of the public’s welfare. 

“I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for this award,” says Ellenbecker who retired from teaching occupational hygiene and cleaner production last year. “Dr. Smyth is a pioneering figure in our field, and the previous Smyth award winners constitute an impressive cross section of industrial hygienists who have made important contributions to worker health and safety.” 

Committed to improving the health and well-being of workers exposed to toxic chemical and physical agents in their work environments, Ellenbecker’s work links both academia and industry. 

He leads the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell, an organization that helps Massachusetts companies — through research, training and grants — reduce the use of toxic chemicals in the workplace. Ellenbecker participated in the lengthy negotiations that led to the passage of the landmark Toxics Use Reduction Act of 1989, which established TURI, and he considers his participation as one of the key watersheds in his career. 

“Occupational hygiene has always taught that the best way to control worker exposures is through permanent changes to production processes, but the Massachusetts TURI program was the first concentrated government effort to develop methodologies to institute process change,” he says. “Our experience with Massachusetts companies demonstrates conclusively that process change can work to reduce toxic chemical use and resulting worker exposures.” 

His leadership in the occupational hygiene academic field includes researching the harmful effects of toxins and educating hundreds of occupational hygienists at the graduate and doctoral level. In addition to his work at TURI, for the past 10 years his research has focused on evaluating and controlling the adverse effects of engineered nanoparticles — this is the work highlighted in his nomination for the Smyth award. 

He co-authored a widely used textbook, “Ventilation for Control of the Work Environment,” about controlling occupational exposures. For the past decade, he has helped pioneer the development of innovative assessment methods for evaluating worker exposures to engineered nanoparticles and the evaluation of engineering controls to limit exposure. This work led him to co-author the book “Exposure Assessment and Safety Considerations for Working with Engineered Nanoparticles,” which is expected to be published this year. 

The Henry F. Smyth, Jr. Award honors the late teacher and researcher who recognized the need for sharing ideas and communicating his achievements with his students and peers through publications and presentations. 

“I want to thank the AIHA Nanotechnology Working Group for nominating me, and my colleagues and students at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute for all of their collaborative work and support, which brought me to this point in my career,” says Ellenbecker. “I look forward to participating in the Association’s Fall Conference to present my award lecture.”