Joan Berkowitz, environmental consultant who tackled everything from preventing water pollution to the best ways to treat industrial waste.
Joan Berkowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1931. She loved science even as a child. After attending Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and graduating in 1952 with a B.A. in chemistry, Berkowitz decided to pursue graduate studies in physical chemistry. She set her sights on Princeton University but was prevented from enrolling because the Princeton chemistry department did not accept women into their graduate program. Instead, Berkowitz earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry at another chemistry powerhouse: the University of Illinois.
As an environmental chemist, Berkowitz has studied the effects of processes to reduce the particulate emissions from coal-burning power plants. Solid particulate matter is a serious form of air pollution that can cause many respiratory illnesses. She also investigated “scrubbing,” a technique that removes sulfur dioxide—which can cause acid rain when it enters the atmosphere—from coal exhaust by means of a reaction of the sulfur dioxide with calcium carbonate. Also, while still at Arthur D. Little, Berkowitz led the team that created a multivolume index of all commercially produced substances that could harm the environment. Later she contributed to reports on hazardous waste treatment at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Academies of Science, and to periodical surveys of the waste treatment industry produced by Farkas Berkowitz.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical Heritage Foundation