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In Memoriam—Joan Daisey

NOTE: Dr. Joan Daisey passed away on February 29, 2000, after a long illness. This article is writen by Dr. Rich Sextro, Dr. Daisey's long-term colleague and friend in EETD's Indoor Environment Department.

Portrait of Joan Daisey

Joan Daisey's career as a chemist and atmospheric scientist took her from teaching undergraduate chemistry at Mount Saint Mary's College in New York state to, first, New York University Medical Center and then to a distinguished tenure at Berkeley Lab. During this 30-year period, Joan made an important difference. Following her death on February 29, 2000, many of the tributes and remembrances from colleagues and friends emphasized not only the exemplary quality of her science and leadership, but the gift of her personality and the quality of the relationships she formed. She was a mentor to many—students, postdocs, and young scientists—and was a much-admired role model for women in science. Joan was also a good friend to many of her colleagues and associates.

After receiving a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Seton Hall in 1970, Joan began her teaching career at Mount Saint Mary's. It was during this time Joan developed an interest in airborne particles, especially the role of organic compounds—either as main components of the particles themselves or as sorbates on other aerosol substrates. She moved to NYU to work as a postdoc with Mort Lippmann, giving up a tenure-track teaching position to pursue research. At NYU, she investigated the composition of urban aerosols, identifying N-nitrosamines in the New York City air. She also developed thin-layer/gas chromatographic methods for the analysis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in airborne particulate matter. Joan published more than 40 papers on the organic composition of atmospheric aerosols, including early work on the mutagenicity of some of these species. She was Principal Investigator for the Airborne Toxic Elements and Organic Substances Study, an important and comprehensive study of non-criteria air pollutants. This effort led to several significant papers on chemical composition and mutagenesis published in a book co-edited with Paul Lioy (1).

In collaboration with her long-time colleague and friend, Beverly Cohen, Joan examined the effect of liquid aerosol on exposure of workers to solvent sprays. The resulting paper (2) was one of the first to examine this effect. One of her best qualities was a willingness to take on new projects and to learn new things. She collaborated with Phil Hopke in an early attempt at doing target transformation factor analysis on some of her ambient monitoring data from New York City. Although this effort didn't work out as planned, she came away with important insights into the methodology and mathematics that would lead to other, more successful applications of factor analytical methods. As another example of her willingness to take on new challenges—happily for her colleagues at Berkeley and for the larger field of indoor air quality—she came to Berkeley Lab in 1986 to lead the indoor air chemistry group. While there are a number of similarities between ambient and indoor air contaminants, there are also significant differences. Joan was quick to recognize these differences and successfully incorporated them into her scientific thinking, thus making the transition from "outdoors to indoors."

Appointed Head of IED

In 1989, Joan was appointed head of the Indoor Environment Department, a position she held until her death. Not only was she able to adopt a new field of study, but she proved to be a very successful leader and expert in the field. Under her guidance and leadership, the department grew to an annual budget of over $6 million and more than 60 staff.

Her research focused on a number of areas. She continued her interest in organic compounds as a constituent of air pollution—in this case, for indoor air contaminants. Working with her Berkeley Lab colleagues she led and contributed to a wide variety of research efforts on organic compounds, ranging from understanding sources of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in indoor air (3) to improved methods of determining phase distributions (4) to interactions among indoor air pollutants (5).

Adapting the science from several key studies of the transport of radon from soil into buildings, Joan helped lead some of the first studies to examine soil-gas transport as a pathway for gas-phase organic contaminants in buildings (6). She also developed an interest in understanding environmental tobacco smoke as a major source of indoor airborne contaminants. Joan and her colleagues developed methods to extract and analyze some of the products of sidestream tobacco smoke, resulting in several key papers (7). Understanding and quantifying exposures to and risks from indoor air contaminants was another focal point for Joan's research efforts. Again, she found colleagues to work with on problems requiring multidisciplinary efforts. In some cases these studies helped launch the early scientific careers of graduate students and postdocs. As with her other research interests, these covered a wide range of topics, from occupational and public health issues (8) to understanding "sick building syndrome" (9) and, finally, back to outdoor air pollution (10). Overall, her work at Berkeley Lab resulted in more than 30 published journal articles and an equal number of conference contributions and reports.

Joan was a significant role model for many of her colleagues—showing by example how to manage a research enterprise yet remain a strong contributor to many of the scientific projects under her direct guidance. However, an under-recognized contribution was the model she established as a woman in science. She was an early member of—and one of the first women to join—the American Association for Aerosol Research, at a time when few women were even in the field of aerosol research. She was a member of the Board of Directors for five years and served the organization in several capacities. She guided the research of several graduate students, postdocs and young staff members—first at NYU and then at UC Berkeley via Berkeley Lab. While all her associates benefited from her guidance, ready availability, and wonderful scientific insights, her women colleagues were particular beneficiaries of her mentoring.

Science Advisory Board Chair

Finally, no tribute to Joan Daisey's career would be complete without mentioning her service to the Science Advisory Board (SAB) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. First appointed to the SAB in 1986, she was appointed co-chair of the Integrated Human Exposure Committee in 1993 and then chair a year later. Joan served as chair of the SAB's executive committee beginning in 1997 and was reappointed to that position by EPA Administrator Browner to another two-year term in the fall of 1999. During her tenure, the SAB was very active—directly through the Executive Committee and via the various standing committees—resulting in 101 full reports, consultations, commentaries, and letter reports sent to the Agency with Joan's signature. In some cases, these reports and the advice to the Agency contained within them were the products of long and sometimes contentious debates among the scientists providing the advice. Joan led several SAB projects where advice was vigorously offered, including steering the efforts of the SAB's complex Integrated Risk Project.

The words of Don Barnes, staff director of the SAB, perhaps best capture the impact Joan had outside the many printed pages in scientific journals and reports she helped author: "The historical record will have a more difficult time capturing her personality and her impact on people. With clear, sparkling eyes and a quick, ready smile, she possessed a wit sharp enough to prick an overinflated ego, a wisdom kind enough to encourage an over-worked colleague, and sense enough to know when to use which."

— Rich Sextro

Information about EETD's Indoor Environment Department.

Information on the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board.

(1) Lioy and Daisey, Toxic Air Pollution, A Comprehensive Study of Non-Criteria Air Pollutants. Chelsea, MI:Lewis Publishers, 1987.

(2) Malek, Daisey and Cohen, "The effect of aerosol on estimates of inhalation exposure to airborne styrene," American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 47:524-529, 1986.

(3) Hodgson and Daisey, "Sources and source strengths of volatile organic compounds in a new office building," Journal of Air and Waste Management Association, 41:1461-1468, 1991.

(4) Gundel, Lee, Mahanama, Stevens and Daisey, "Direct determination of the phase distributions of semi-volatile polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons using annular denuders," Atmospheric Environment 29:1719-1733, 1995.

(5) Daisey and Hopke, "Potential for ion-induced nucleation of volatile organic compounds by radon decay in indoor environments," Aerosol Science and Technology 19:80-93, 1993.

(6) Hodgson, Garbesi, Sextro and Daisey, "Soil-gas contamination and entry of volatile organic compounds into a house near a landfill," Journal of Air and Waste Management Association 42:277-283, 1992.

(7) Mahanama and Daisey, "Volatile N-nitrosamines in environmental tobacco smoke: Sampling, analysis, source emission factors and exposure assessment," Environmental Science and Technology 30:1477-1484, 1996.

(8) Watanabe, Bois, Daisey, Auslander and Spear, "Benzene toxicokinetics in humans: Bone marrow exposure to metabolites," Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 51:414-420, 1994).

(9) Ten Brinke, Selvin, Hodgson, Fisk, Mendell, Koshland, and Daisey, "Development of new VOC exposure metrics and their relationship to 'sick building syndrome' symptoms," Indoor Air 8:140-152, 1998.

(10) Tsai, Apte and Daisey, "An exploratory analysis of the relationship between mortality and the chemical composition of airborne particulate matter," Inhalation Toxicology, 12:1210-15, 2000).

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