The major factors that propelled the development of occupational epidemiology since the 1950s have been delineated (1). They include momentum to control occupational injury that gained national prominence in the wake of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 25, 1911, in which 146 young, mostly female immigrant garment workers fell to their deaths while escaping from a fire in a locked sweat shop. This tragedy was a turning point in the nationwide adoption of state-based occupational safety regulations, workers' compensation programs, and federal safety legislation. During the 1930s, federal initiatives in occupational safety and health required contractor compliance, not only with wage and hour laws, but also with federal occupational safety and health regulations. The New Deal built state capacity by funding state industrial hygiene programs. Levenstein (1) reports a diminution of interest in occupational safety and health, except for the Atomic Energy Act in the 1950s, until the 1960s' resurgence in organized labor's political voice. Also, societal reaction to the Farmington, West Virginia, mine disaster of 1968, which killed 78 miners, led to passage of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 and introduced federal regulation and federal inspectors to the mining industry. To this brief history could be added the major scientific advances in the invention and commercialization of synthetic organic chemicals, such as organic dyes that caused epidemics of bladder cancer among industrial workers and anemia and leukemia among benzene-exposed workers. Interest among health-care students and the public probably was affected by growing concern about the health effects of environmental toxins communicated to the public through Rachel Carson's 1962 book, Silent Spring (2). This book vividly detailed the environmental consequences of pesticides and helped launch the environmental movement. In 1965, a parallel popular book by Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed (3), concerned the forces at play in industry and society that led to production of unsafe automobiles and failure to adopt new safety technology, such as seat belts, which vaulted consumer safety into the public agenda. These historical tides provided fertile ground for national-level development of occupational epidemiology midway through the 20th century.
William Halperin, MD, DrPH, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 185 South Orange Avenue, MS8, Room F-506, P.O. Box 1709, Newark, NJ 07101-1709