Not Your Average 9 To 5

These individuals have found professional and personalfulfillment in jobs most people only dream about

business and, although she’s gotten good reviews for her work, she concedes that she has a lot to learn. As a relative beginner, she makes in the range of $30,000 a year. “Most of the people I work with have been there for years,” she explains. “They can tell you every ingredient in a meal, just by tasting it. They know when there’s too much basil and not enough thyme. They know when you tried to sneak in a pinch too much salt or vinegar or cilantro. I’m not there yet.”
But she’s getting there. Around the holidays, Billue and her colleagues had to develop new ways to prepare some old standards. Her Topsy-Turvy Apple Bread Pudding, which uses rum, raisins, brown sugar and vanilla to transform a rather unappealing-looking frozen bread pudding into a tantalizing confection, was featured in one of the product line’s brochures. As for her own homemade meals–take lasagna, for example–how does Stouffer’s frozen version stack up? Billue grins broadly: “Let’s just say, no comment.”

Although, officially, Melissa Johnson’s hours are fairly normal-8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., five days a week–they are anything but routine. In fact, a single day might find her at a local Bergen County firehouse at 4:30 a.m., educating firemen just coming off the graveyard shift about new standards in protection against toxic chemicals.

Then it’s on to a local manufacturing plant to interview employees about a rash of illnesses going around, taking samples to investigate what on- the-job conditions may be contributing to them. And, if she’s on call that night, her pager may beckon her in the wee hours to the site of a train wreck involving hazardous chemical emissions.

What sounds fairly exotic to most people is plain, simple and, sometimes, even mundane to Melissa Johnson, who really doesn’t see her job as unique at all. But make no mistake, she loves what she does. She sees it as extremely important and interesting, and the fact that it encompasses such a broad variety of sciences (biology, toxicology, epidemiology, statistics, engineering–the list goes on) keeps it challenging. So, what exactly does Johnson do?

For starters, as an industrial hygienist for Bergen County, New Jersey, she assesses employee health hazards in industry, responding to complaints and initiating investigations. These hazards can range from the potential for injury related to working with certain equipment, to the possibility of lethal contamination following a chemical spill. Also a member of the Bergen County Hazardous Materials Response Team, she goes into contaminated sites to take samples and analyze the extent of any damage, exposure and ongoing hazard.

“Yes,” Johnson, 31, admits reluctantly, “I’m one of those people who suits up like an astronaut to go into contaminated sites.” But more often, the six-year county veteran is doing less visible, less dangerous, but no less important work, like teaching police officers how to protect themselves when handling blood at crime scenes where HIV contamination is always a possibility.

She also teaches them to be aware of everyday hazards. For

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