EHS student Anna Adetona wins AIHA GA Local Section Scholarship

Anna Hejl Adetona, a second-year doctoral student in toxicology at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, has been awarded a 2014-15 American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA) Georgia Local Section Scholarship.  The $2,000 award will be used to support Adetona’s research on the health risks involved in wildland firefighting.

AIHA, founded in 1939, is an association of occupational and environmental health and safety professionals with over 10,000 members. Adetona will be formally recognized with other AIHA scholarship winners at the 2014 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce) to be held in San Antonio, Texas, May 31-June 5.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Adetona received her B.S. in biology from Cedarville University in 2009 and her M.S. in environmental health science from the UGA College of Public Health in 2011.

“Industrial hygiene is a field many people know little to nothing about,” Adetona said.  “However, it is an area which can have the most impact on workers’ health and protection.”

For her master’s thesis, Adetona investigated the health impacts of woodsmoke exposures on wildland firefighters working at prescribed burns at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, SC.  Her study found that levels of inflammatory biomarkers, which can indicate increased risks for respiratory diseases, increased in the firefighters after working at prescribed burns.

“Frequency of exposure for wildland firefighters is inadvertently high and workdays may last well over the normal 8-hour workshift,” Adetona said. “Respiratory protection is not frequently used nor are they easily feasible during wildland firefighting because of the high physical demand of work.”

Adetona was further inspired to continue her studies related to industrial hygiene after a six-month public health internship in Cambodia with the international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. Although her work in Cambodia focused on maternal health and child nutrition, Adetona commonly witnessed work-related health risks on the city streets.

“I saw some crazy work-related exposures there, particularly among garment factory workers,” she said. “The workers, many of whom are under 20 years of age, spend long hours working in cramped conditions in the extreme heat.  Labor is cheap and occupational exposure regulations are lacking, so it was common to hear about mass ‘pass outs’ in the factories or read about them in the newspaper.”

Now a doctoral student in UGA’s Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program, Adetona has turned her attention once again to workers health and protection among wildland firefighters with a joint Fire Service Program project supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“My research will contribute to developing ways in which work-related exposure can be reduced among the wildland firefighters and how the effectiveness of such measures can be assessed in relation to their health,” she said. “I believe there is much to be learned and gained in regards to effectively mitigating work-related exposures, nationally and internationally.”

Adetona is the sixth recipient of the Georgia Local Section Scholarship since 2009. Awarded by the American Industrial Hygiene Foundation (AIHF), the scholarship is funded through donations from the AIHA’s Georgia Local Section and is open to all qualified students studying industrial hygiene in an ABET-accredited program. Preference is given to a student attending a college or university in Georgia.

Since 1982, AIHF has distributed $1,617,726 to 549 students studying industrial hygiene and related disciplines at 53 different schools and universities.

“My long-term goal is to use the professional skills gained through my work and research experiences to alleviate harsh working conditions,” said Adetona.  “This scholarship award has inspired me to help others and give back to the community.  I hope in the near future to be able to help students achieve their goals just as AIHA has invested in me.”

Dr. Luke Naeher, associate professor of environmental health sciences and Adetona’s faculty mentor through both her master’s and doctoral work at UGA, expressed happiness in his student’s achievement.

“I have no doubt that Anna will be successful in her desired career as a professor teaching students and conducting research in the field of environmental health and toxicology, particularly as it relates to workers’ health and industrial hygiene,” Naeher said. “She continues to develop and display skills essential to achieving this goal and becoming a leader in this field.”

Read the official AIHA Awards press release here.  Additional coverage is ASPPH Friday Letter.

Posted May 2, 2014.