Joseph Epstein, a research chemist and former chief of defense research at Edgewood Arsenal, died of kidney failure Saturday at Northwest Hospital Center. He was 87.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, the son of Polish immigrants, he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1938 from Temple University in Philadelphia, his master's from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, and a doctorate in 1966 from the University of Delaware.
Dr. Epstein began his civilian career at the Army's Edgewood Arsenal in 1940, and during a 40-year career there became an acknowledged expert in chemical warfare, detoxification, treatment of contaminated water supplies and safe disposal of chemical weapons.
Much of his work was classified, said a daughter, Marcia E. Meyer of Randallstown.
"He was a man who always enjoyed intellectual challenges and problem-solving," Mrs. Meyer said.
Dr. Epstein's research contributed significantly to the nation's defenses against toxic chemical agents.
In 1954, he was named a consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service in connection with its work on the detection and removal of chemical wastes in water supplies.
"Early in the 1950s, Dr. Epstein recognized the importance of understanding the factors responsible for the rapid rates of chemical reactions in connection with problems involved against chemical agents [decontamination, detection, water purification, etc.]," said a profile prepared by the Edgewood facility in 1974, when he was given the Army Research and Development Achievement Award for his life's work.
"To this end, he pursued a study which resulted in the publication of more than one hundred papers, many of which have been published in the open literature and are quoted by the scientific community as `firsts' in the field of displacement reactions in organophosphorus chemistry," the profile said.
"He was a highly regarded chemist, and one area of his expertise was the detection of toxic agents and materials in the air. And it doesn't take much of them to kill," said Bernard Siegel, a retired chemical engineer who was an Edgewood colleague for more than 30 years.
After retiring in 1980, Dr. Epstein continued working as a consultant to corporations and research institutions.
A resident of the Villa Nova section of Baltimore County for 45 years, he was a former member of Oheb Shalom Congregation.
Dr. Epstein enjoyed listening to classical music and was an avid reader. For years, he liked hiking and taking his family on cross-country camping trips. "He went to the gym five days a week until he was 86," his daughter said.
Services were Monday.
Also surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Josephine Zierler, a chemist he met at Edgewood; two sons, Karl E. Epstein of Los Angeles and H. Jeffrey Epstein of Baltimore; another daughter, Lynn Epstein of Davis, Calif.; a brother, Norman Elson of Bozeman, Mont.; a sister, Phyllis Rosenthal of Philadelphia; and 10 grandchildren.