This oversight started strongly in the 1970s, though the problems that started the oversight had been recognized decades before. Asbestos, industrial dumping, radiation, and others were being taken note of and movement began to control these situations.
During this time the Air Force saw a need to implement the same measures the federal government was taking. It took elements of Military Public Health and spun off a separate arm called Bioenvironmental Engineering. From that point Bioenvironmental Engineering has taken the lead in protecting the health of Air Force workers, sampling everything from noise to drinking water.
The original group of Bioenvironmental Engineers (BEEs) came to the Air Force from the U.S. Army in 1947 when the Air Force was formed. They were an outgrowth of the U.S. Army Sanitary Corps. Until 1964, Air Force BEEs were called Sanitary and Industrial Hygiene Engineers. They were Medical Service Corps (MSC) officers until the Biomedical Sciences Corps (BSC) was created in 1965. In fact, the "S" on the BSC badge is directly connected to the original U.S. Army Sanitary Corps, a link to which we BEEs are very proud.
Between 1960 and 1970, the BEE field grew from around 100 to 150. However, beginning in 1970, with the formation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we have experienced an exponential growth in Federal regulations. These laws require BEEs to monitor Air Force operations for their effects on personnel and the environment. Several major catastrophes and other events focused keen Congressional interest on environment, safety and occupational health (ESOH), leading to new, mandatory compliance programs. Love Canal, Bhopal, Morton Thiokol, atmospheric ozone depletion, and other incidents spawned new laws governing the Installation Restoration Program; hazard communication; community-right-to-know; Process Safety Management; and hazardous material inventory, control and reduction. These have continually driven additional, corresponding requirements for BEEs, and are currently at 370 BEEs.
In the early 1980s, a major shift in functions occurred. The clinical and sanitary aspects of the BEE program, (communicable disease, sanitary surveys, vector control, and occupational medicine) were turned over to the newly forming environmental health officers. This enabled the BEE force to concentrate its efforts on the industrial work place and the environment.
The importance of ensuring Air Force compliance with ESOH requirements is higher than ever. Public awareness/concern/disclosure, the recognition of risk analysis/communication/management, loss of sovereign immunity of federal agencies, and the personal liability of commanders for environmental infractions are all impacting BEE surveillance programs. We do not envision any reduction in the pace of growth of ESOH regulations and the corresponding need for BEE services. Increased environmental pollution prevention and occupational health preventive medicine programs are shifting the emphasis to avoiding problems before they occur. We expect these factors to shape BEE activities for the foreseeable future.
Areas of specialty include: