Michael (Mickey) Ridosh, CIH, an independent consultant, is founder and principal of E-MAR Resources, a small business that provides a range of industrial hygiene services, from occupational exposure monitoring to residential mold inspections. Ridosh, who has more than 40 years of experience in the field, started his career as a chemist in the nuclear industry and was later assigned to EPA Region 9, where he did emergency response work related to hazardous materials in the early 1980s. His consulting work has taken him all over the U.S., and his clients have included engineering companies, construction companies, and government agencies. He’s even worked with a special effects manager to keep actors and actresses safe on the sets of several major film productions, including Paramount Pictures’ 2005 film “War of the Worlds,” which stars Tom Cruise, and more recent films from Marvel Studios such as “Captain America,” “Thor,” and all three “Iron Man” movies, which star Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. A few years ago, Ridosh, a member of both AIHA national and the Southern California Local Section, was assigned to be the project safety manager for the Agent Orange cleanup at the airport in Da Nang, Vietnam. The Synergist: What’s the objective of the cleanup at the airport in Da Nang? Michael Ridosh: The contamination in Da Nang is derived from the Vietnam War, during which the Da Nang Airport was a major U.S. military installation and one of three bases in the country where Agent Orange was handled in large quantities. Agent Orange was an herbicide that was applied to the jungles where the Viet Cong fighters were hiding, making it difficult for U.S. forces to attack. Agent Orange is a 50/50 mixture of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, and in order to spray it from an airplane from above, it was blended with fuel oil to form a liquid. Applicator airplanes would come to what was called the mixing and loading area at the base, where Agent Orange would be loaded into the airplanes to be sprayed over the jungles. We used airplanes like crop dusters to spray large tracts of jungle with this herbicide, killing the trees. In a matter of weeks, all the leaves would fall off the trees and the Viet Cong would have no shelter. When you have hundreds of 55-gallon drums of chemicals and you’re mixing them, pouring them into airplanes, and draining the tanks when the planes land, a whole lot of that material gets into the ground. There were several areas where drums of Agent Orange were stored, but the mixing and loading area at the airport was the most heavily contaminated. Runoff from the contaminated areas carried sediment into a small lake near the airport, so the sediment at the bottom of the lake was also contaminated with Agent Orange. Agent Orange itself is not all that harmful to humans, but in its manufacture, another chemical, dioxin, is formed. The herbicides manufactured by the chemical company contain very low levels of dioxin, but because dioxin is extremely toxic and they were handling literally millions of gallons of Agent Orange, dioxin is the contaminant of concern at the airport. Although Agent Orange is the source of the contamination, all of the sampling, analysis, testing, and personnel protection focuses on dioxin. The objective of the project is to excavate all the soil that’s contaminated with dioxin and then treat it to remove the dioxin. TS: How did you become assigned to the project? MR: I got this call asking if I’d like to go to Vietnam for a project that was estimated to last four years. Because of family, home, and business, I couldn’t go away for that long, but I agreed to go to initiate the project. The contract got held up in negotiations, but eventually I got another call that basically said, “You’re going to Vietnam next week.” I had to run and get shots, and they already had tickets for me. I ended up in Da Nang, Vietnam, having had no travel experience in Asia at all. There were a few Americans from around the country—a construction manager, a quality control manager, and me as health and safety manager—who went over there to initiate the project. I first spent two months in Vietnam in September and October 2012. I went back in April 2013 while the person they’d found to stay over there for an extended period took a leave to come home. I fell in love with Vietnam. I came home and told my wife we’re moving. My favorite word to describe it is “delightful”—everything about the culture, the place, the landscape, the people, the language. Well, we didn’t move, but I’ve gone back three times for one-month trips with my wife outside of work, bringing my time in Vietnam up to total of about six months.
Editor's note: Exclusive to the digital Synergist, Pole to Pole focuses on the challenges of practicing industrial and occupational hygiene around the world. Each month, the digital Synergist features an edited Q&A based on an interview with an industrial hygienist about how the IH/OH profession differs from country to country. The previous installment of “Pole to Pole” features AIHA member Jun Wang, who discussed IH in China. This month, the series focuses on Vietnam.
|Pole to Pole: Vietnam|
An Interview with Michael Ridosh