"What will happen to hygiene?" asks a corporate IH with more than 25 years in the profession. "Have we worked ourselves out of a job? No more mold to chase, no new health and safety regulations or crises. All wound down?"

"Don't marginalize me yet — I've still got 10-15 years before retiring," a typical IH might exclaim. Indeed, 80 percent of the IHs polled in ISHN's 2005 White Paper survey are between the ages of 40 and 60. So what constitutes career options at this point for IHs raised in the OSHA glory years of the '70s and '80s?

One sour note noted is sounded by a source we contacted: "When you read the IH listserv and see questions on obscure odor exposures and dermatitis in office workers you can sense that the end is near. They know it themselves, I think. Mold might save a few jobs, but it's clear that the majority of problems have been solved."

So what say the optimists?

Corporate leaders are very attuned to risks these days — risks to their bottom line, operations, social credibility, standing on Wall Street, and brand reputations. A number of IHs in big business and government are part of teams conducting "enterprise risk management" (ERM) assessments. This is a standardized exercise for ranking and dealing with probabilities so that risk management efforts can be prioritized and tracked. The good news is ERM often includes environmental health and safety risks with all other forms of risk.

"The real growth opportunity is emerging in the third world," predicts Mark Katchen, CIH, of The Phylmar Group, a consulting network. The profession needs to develop on a global scale, especially where industrial hygiene is still in nascent form," he explains.

"Outreach to China could be very helpful to AIHA. China's workforce is 100 times the size of ours with many exposures still uncontrolled," notes a long-time IH observer.

"Consider IH a base of knowledge, skills and tools that can be applied to many areas of practice and work environments," offers Tom Grumbles, a former AIHA president.

"Never burn your bridges," says an IH consultant. "I'm very busy now with contracts and projects coming from people I worked with 15 years ago." He sees opportunities in chaos. "Environmental health schools are closing, but they have contract work that still needs to be handled. Understaffed insurance and corporate departments are farming out work."

"About a dozen known and probable human carcinogens have not been addressed (through permissible exposure limits). Several carcinogens were regulated in the past to levels that leave behind significant risks. Microbial exposures and indoor air quality issues are amenable to IH approaches. The profession could set out to update those limits. The profession could, but will it?" asks Franklin E. Mirer, Ph.D., CIH, director of the United Auto Workers' Health and Safety Department.