Photo courtesy the Kortsha family.
Gene X. Kortsha, 1924–2016
The industrial hygiene profession lost one of its most accomplished pioneers on Feb. 18, 2016, with the passing of AIHA Past President Gene X. Kortsha. He was 92. Mr. Kortsha came to Detroit, Mich., in 1955 after escaping from communist Albania, his home country. He recounted his experiences in the book One Man’s Journey to Freedom: Escape from Behind the Iron Curtain, which was published in 2010. He started work at Great Lakes Steel Corporation as a first-aid attendant while attending night classes at Wayne State University. He graduated with a B.A. in Chemistry, Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1959. The following year, at age 36, Mr. Kortsha joined General Motors. Over nearly three decades with G.M. he played a significant role in initiating health and safety improvements in the company, eventually attaining the position of global director of industrial hygiene. He took great pride in working with the United Auto Workers; eventually, he published a paper in the December 1987 issue of the AIHA Journal that called for cooperation between management and labor. “It is hoped that employers and unions will join forces with each other, with academia and with governmental agencies to participate in the struggle against the common enemy: work-related accidents and diseases,” he wrote. Mr. Kortsha’s experience and advocacy helped shape important U.S. legislation, including the OSHA lead standard in the early 1990s. G.M. supported his efforts to improve the industrial hygiene profession through involvement in professional associations and as a university lecturer. He was an active member of the Michigan Industrial Hygiene Society and of AIHA, eventually serving on the AIHA Board of Directors as secretary and then as president in 1984–85. Fluent in six languages, Mr. Kortsha was keenly interested in advancing the profession internationally. During his term as president, AIHA deepened its engagement with the Italian Association of Industrial Hygienists (AIDII), the Swiss Industrial Hygiene Association, and the Spanish Industrial Hygiene Association. Mr. Kortsha was the first AIHA president to attend the AIDII conference. In recognition of his professional contributions, AIDII granted him honorary membership. Mr. Kortsha played a prominent role in forging stronger ties between AIHA and other national industrial hygiene organizations. In 1986, he and then-President-elect Alice Farrar represented AIHA at the first International Congress on Industrial Hygiene in Rome. At that meeting, the delegations of several associations expressed interest in forming an international organization. The following year, during AIHce in Montreal, representatives from 10 industrial hygiene associations in eight countries signed an agreement to create the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA), the umbrella organization for national associations of industrial hygiene professionals. “Gene’s international outreach and the relationships he developed with industrial hygiene professionals internationally were instrumental in the formation of IOHA,” Farrar recalls. “In the years following his AIHA presidency, Gene continued to participate in IOHA and international industrial hygiene activities. He was a master of industrial hygiene, language, and diplomacy.”
Fluent in six languages, Mr. Kortsha was keenly interested in advancing the profession internationally.
Mr. Kortsha received some of the highest honors in the industrial hygiene profession, including AIHA’s Donald E. Cummings Memorial Award in 1990 and the Henry F. Smyth, Jr. Award in 2001. Both AIHA and ACGIH named him an honorary member. He also served as president of the Academy of Industrial Hygiene in 1992–93. A gifted public speaker, Mr. Kortsha had a talent for translating technically complex material and making it understandable. He was an adjunct assistant professor of industrial hygiene at Wayne State University and non-resident lecturer at the University of Michigan. He also published chapters in industrial hygiene books, including Patty’s Industrial Hygiene, and numerous journal articles. Mr. Kortsha is survived by his wife, Margaret; their three children, Dennis, Duane, and Ann; eight grandchildren; and one grandchild. Duane Kortsha, CIH, and Alice Farrar both contributed to this article.
Resources AIHA: The American Industrial Hygiene Association: Its History and Personalities, 1939–1990 (1994). AIHA Journal: “Scientific Cooperation between Industry and Organized Labor” (December 1987).
The majority opinion in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO, v. American Petroleum Institute et. al. read:
"If ... the odds are one in a billion that a person will die from cancer by taking a drink of chlorinated water, the risk clearly could not be considered significant. On the other hand, if the odds are one in a thousand that regular inhalation of gasoline vapors that are 2% benzene will be fatal, a reasonable person might well consider the risk significant."
An article in the AIHA 75th Anniversary supplement to the September 2014 Synergist that discusses the one-in-a-thousand risk benchmark for OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits is available in the Synergist archives on the AIHA website (login required).
Editor's note: The original wording of this sentence, which appears in the print version of this article, implies that the author has knowledge of a specific scenario where leukemia was attributed to pumping gas. The sentence has been edited here to better convey the author's intent.