z”l Bernard E. Saltzman, 1918-2010

Dr. Bernard E. Saltzman, a pioneer in the fields of industrial hygiene and measurement of air pollution, died on September 6, 2010, at the age of 92.  He was an internationally known scientist who served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (in units that later became part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the Environmental Protection Agency) and then became a professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati.

In the 1950’s, he developed a technique to measure the concentration of nitrogen dioxide, an important air pollutant:

Bernard E. Saltzman, “Colorimetric Microdetermination of Nitrogen Dioxide in the Atmosphere,” Analytical Chemistry, Vol. 26, No. 12, December 1954, pp. 1949-1955.

As of September 2010, this paper had been cited 654 times in the scholarly literature, including citations in four papers published in 2010 – more than 55 years after Bernie Saltzman’s paper was first published.

He continued his scholarly work late in life, with two refereed journal articles published when he was 83:

Bernard E. Saltzman, “Recent Risk Rates of Occupational Fatalities, Injuries, and Illnesses in U.S. Industries and Their Use in Planning Environmental Controls,” Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Vol. 16, No. 7, 1 July 2001, pp. 742-744.

Bernard E. Saltzman, “Lognormal Model for Determining Dose-Response Curves from Epidemiological Data and for Health Risk Assessment,” Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Vol. 16, No. 7, 1 July 2001, pp. 745-754.

Besides caring deeply about his professional work, Bernie Saltzman was devoted to his family.  He was survived by his beloved wife of 61 years, Martha Saltzman; their three children, Dr. Phyllis Saltzman of Cincinnati, Dr. Gregory Saltzman (married to Dr. Audrey Newell) of Ann Arbor, MI, and Barbara Trompeter (married to Jeffrey Trompeter) of Massapequa Park, NY; their seven grandchildren, Shira Shmulewitz of Bronx, NY, Barak Saltzman of Cincinnati, Daniel, David, and Jonathan Saltzman of Ann Arbor, MI, and David and Sarah Trompeter of Massapequa Park, NY.  He is also survived by his sister, Bertha Rubin, of Yonkers, NY.

Bernie demonstrated his devotion to his family in countless ways.  For example, in 1965-66, he spent many hours working with his son Greg on improving Greg’s poor handwriting.  Greg had never been given formal instruction in school on how to write in cursive.  He changed school systems between 2nd and 3rd grade; unfortunately, his old school system taught cursive writing in 3rd grade, while his new school system taught it in 2nd.  Greg therefore taught himself cursive writing in 3rd grade by imitating his classmates; but, being left-handed, Greg had to adapt the writing techniques used by his right-handed peers.  Not surprisingly, Greg’s cursive handwriting was poor.  When the problem persisted, Bernie decided to intervene.  In fall 1965, when Greg entered 6th grade, Bernie bought a workbook called Left-Handed Writing.  Bernie sat patiently with Greg as Greg proceeded through a series of cursive writing drills, coaching Greg with feedback on his handwriting technique.  Greg’s handwriting, though still imperfect, improved substantially.  Bernie was always there for his family when they needed him.

A very practical engineer, Bernie was remarkably good at fixing things–plumbing, motors, electronics.  He had a good set of tools, he read instruction manuals carefully, and he generally did the job correctly the first time.

Bernie was born in New York City on June 24, 1918.  His parents were Boroch and Bessie Saltzman, Jewish immigrants who had fled from Czarist Russia a few years before World War I.  When Bessie went into labor with Bernie, Boroch rushed out of the apartment to seek help with the delivery.  Leaving in haste, Boroch had forgotten his key to the apartment.  When he returned with help, he realized that he could not get in the locked door.  Finally, Boroch and the help he had summoned got into a nearby apartment and then entered the Saltzman family apartment through the fire escape.  By then, however, Bessie had already given birth completely unassisted to a healthy baby boy–Bernie Saltzman.

Bernie skipped two years in the New York City public schools, graduating from Morris High School in New York City in 1934, at the age of 16.  Based on his excellent high school record, he won admission to City College of New York, then a highly selective school with undergraduate admission standards comparable to those at the University of California-Berkeley today.  To save money (this was the Great Depression), Bernie lived at home with his parents and sister Bertha in the Bronx and commuted to CCNY in Manhattan each day by subway.  He took a year off of college, earning some money by working for the U.S. Weather Service in Ithaca, NY.  He returned to school and graduated from CCNY, magna cum laude, in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

Bernie was admitted to two master’s programs in chemical engineering:  MIT, and the University of Michigan.  Michigan had lower tuition and offered him a paid job (pithing frogs for undergraduate biology classes–not a job for the squeamish).  Money still being tight in 1939, Bernie went to Michigan.  He received his master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1940.

As Bernie approached graduation in 1940, he started looking for work.  Because the University of Michigan had a distinguished chemical engineering program, leading industrial employers such as Dupont, Monsanto, and Dow came there to recruit.  Bernie’s faculty adviser told him not to bother applying to such places because none of them hired Jews.  (This was before the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis made most Christians feel guilty about anti-Jewish sentiment.)  Bernie ignored his adviser and applied anyway, but the adviser was right:  none of the major chemical companies was willing to give Bernie a chance.  Note that, 27 years later, in 1967, Harvard University offered Bernie an untenured associate professorship, suggesting that the unwillingness of major chemical companies to hire Bernie in 1940 was not because Bernie lacked talent.

Bernie ended up taking a job with a Jewish-owned company, Seagram.  For about a year, he ran one of the world’s largest stills, producing distilled liquor in Lawrenceburg, IN.  (Ironically, Bernie drank very little alcohol himself; bottles of liquor bought in December 1966 for guests at his son Greg’s bar mitzvah were still around, and mostly full, over 25 years later when Bernie and Martha sold their house and moved into an apartment.)

Then, in 1941, Bernie took a job with the U.S. Public Health Service.  In 1943, Bernie became a commissioned officer in the USPHS.  He wore a uniform during World War II, but he was not involved in any fighting.  He found that war industries in West Virginia were dumping dangerous pollutants into the Ohio River and reported this information to a West Virginia state official (this being before the federal government regulated water pollution; the feds were just technical advisers then, and the states had the regulatory authority).  The state official refused to do anything about the pollution.  Bernie suspected that the state official was taking payoffs from the factories.

Later in World War II, Bernie was sent to Massachusetts, where he was asked to fix problems with the drinking water at a new army base.  The base had installed a fancy water and sewage system, but they had hooked it up incorrectly.  As a result, the soldiers were drinking water contaminated with sewage and were getting sick.  Bernie fixed the water and sewage system, and the problem was solved.

After World War II, the Public Health Service transferred Bernie to Washington, DC.  There, he met Martha Schneider, a Jewish pharmacist who made more money than he did.  Bernie did not lack self-confidence; he was not reluctant to become romantically involved with a woman whose salary was higher than his.  In 1949, Bernie proposed marriage.  Martha agreed, but she had a condition–he had to shave off his moustache.  He agreed.  They were married on April 10, 1949.

About 20 years later, when facial hair became quite fashionable, Martha urged Bernie to grow a beard.  But Bernie replied that she had her chance in 1949, and he declined to abandon the clean-shaven look that she had requested then.  On Sunday evening, September 5, 2010, Martha had a Skype video conference with Bernie about five hours before he died.  (She had visited him in person in his hospital room earlier in the day.)  The issue of whether Bernie should grow a moustache again, plus Martha’s 1949 request that he shave off his moustache, came up in a humorous way during the Skype video conference, and Bernie smiled at the fond memory he shared with Martha.

While Bernie and Martha were in Washington, Bernie met Martha’s sister Rose and Rose’s daughter Jan.  Jan was then a little girl.  Bernie loved telling jokes, so on a trip to the Washington Zoo, he told Jan that the lions worked at the zoo from 9 AM to 5 PM, just like an office worker.  After 5 PM, Bernie told young Jan, the lions left their cages and went home for supper.  It wasn’t until a few years later that Jan realized that this was not true.

The Public Health Service transferred Bernie to Cincinnati in 1950, and Bernie and Martha lived there for 10 years.  Bernie decided in 1954 to pursue a PhD.  He took courses part time at the University of Cincinnati while continuing to work full time at the Public Health Service.  He was also a doting father for three young children–the deal that Bernie and Martha worked out was that whoever smelled a dirty diaper first was responsible for changing it.  Bernie’s boss kindly gave him the flexibility to do the lab work for his doctoral dissertation as part of his job at the Public Health Service.  Still, Bernie spent many long hours at night in the basement of his tiny home, writing up his research results as a dissertation.  He received his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1958.

In 1960, the Public Health Service transferred Bernie again, this time to Salt Lake City.  Martha felt that Salt Lake (which was more overwhelmingly Mormon in 1960 than it is today) was no place to raise their children (Phyllis, Greg, and Barbara) as Jews.  Furthermore, Bernie had a heart attack at age 42 in 1961, and the high altitude in Salt Lake City probably was a contributing factor.  Later in 1961, Bernie attained 20 years of service in the U.S. Public Health Service and thus became eligible for an excellent commissioned officer’s pension.  At Martha’s request, Bernie told the Public Health Service that he wanted to be transferred out of Salt Lake City and that he would retire if they did not transfer him.

In 1962, the Public Health Service transferred Bernie back to Cincinnati, and Bernie and Martha came back to where they had a network of friends from the 1950’s.  In 1967, the Public Health Service announced that the unit in which Bernie was then working (which later became part of the Environmental Protection Agency) would be transferred to North Carolina.  Martha, having been unhappy in Salt Lake City, did not want to move to North Carolina.  Bernie decided to retire from the Public Health Service (at the ripe old age of 49) and look for an academic job.  As noted earlier, Harvard offered him an untenured associate professorship, but Bernie decided instead to take a full professorship in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati.  He secured an ongoing stream of federal grant funds, both for research and to train master’s and PhD students in industrial hygiene.  Bernie became an emeritus professor at the University of Cincinnati in 1986, though he continued to teach part time after that.

After Bernie became an emeritus professor, Bernie and Martha began spending winters in Florida, coming back to Cincinnati for the spring, summer, and fall.  Eventually, they moved into a two-bedroom apartment at Cedar Village in Mason, OH, just north of Cincinnati.  Cedar Village is a mostly Jewish retirement community with independent living apartments (to which one can add assisted living services) and a nursing home wing.  Bernie was happy there–spending time with Martha, seeing his children and grandchildren, reading the newspaper and magazines, keeping track meticulously of Bernie’s and Martha’s finances and medications, and watching the news on TV.

Bernie wanted to live life to the fullest, and he demonstrated some of his intellectual sparkle even on the last day of his life.  On the morning of Sunday, September 5, Bernie’s son Greg was visiting him in the hospital.  Greg had with him a laptop computer, which he used to conduct a Skype video conference with Greg’s son (Bernie’s grandson) David Saltzman.  David said that he had just started an introduction to music class in college.  Greg joked that David should write a term paper for this class, doing a Fourier analysis of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in G Minor.  David smiled and said that he doubted that the professor would understand such a paper.  Bernie then perked up and said that statisticians really ought to use Fourier analysis.  Correlation is not causation, Bernie noted, and it is reasonable to infer that if Variable Y changes before Variable X changes, then X cannot be the cause of changes in Y.  Fourier analysis would allow detailed study of the time pattern of changes in X and Y, making it easier for statisticians to rule out causality.  The problem, Bernie concluded, was that not enough statisticians understood Fourier analysis, so that this useful tool was not applied when it ought to be.

Bernard E. Saltzman – his mind was active to the very end.  He died less than 14 hours later.  His family loved him dearly and will miss him.

–Greg Saltzman, September 9, 2010