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Science Notebook: Indoor Air Quality

Interview with Laureen Burton

Welcome to Scientist Showcase, a regular feature of EPA's Science Notebook. In this interview, EPA's Indoor Environments Division Communication Specialist Kelly Hunt talks with EPA Chemist/Toxicologist Laureen Burton.

KH = Kelly Hunt (EPA, Communications Specialist)
LB = Laureen Burton (EPA, Chemist/Toxicologist)

KH: Tell me about your science and education background. What kind of scientist are you?
LB: I majored in chemistry with a minor in mathematics in undergrad. In grad school, I got a public health degree in environmental and occupational health, with a focus in toxicology. You'd consider me a health scientist/environmental scientist/chemist. Take your pick.

KH: What do you do here at EPA?
LB: At EPA, I'm a chemist/toxicologist for the Indoor Environment's Center of Scientific Analysis. I work on general indoor air quality issues, health impacts of IAQ, and pollutants and sources.

KH: So, with your background, how did you end up here at EPA in IED?
LB: I ended up here because they needed someone with health sciences and mathematical background in working with building assessment, survey and evaluation study. And they wanted someone with indoor air quality experience. So, that's what I got hired to do. I had worked with indoor air for years, so it just fit.

KH: Sounds like your place in EPA was meant to be. How long have you been here?
LB: Going on 12 years.

KH: Wow! Well, I'm glad you're here. The work you do seems to vary a great deal, from fielding media inquires to writing guidance to creating publications for the division. What's the most exciting project you've worked on to date?
LB: That would have to be BASE; coming in to help get it started right from the beginning. That was very exciting.

KH: And what is BASE?
LB: BASE is an IAQ study of 100 office buildings nationwide to determine typical air quality in buildings. It's the only thing like it, still. The other project that's really exciting is working on products and their effects on IAQ because it involves real people. People are confused and people are really passionate about it. BASE and products came at two very different times in my life, but they were equally exciting.

KH: On the topic of science, what's your favorite scientific discovery of all time and why?
LB: The discoveries that are most interesting to me are more archeologically-based. Finding bones – finding Lucy! Finding Lucy was awesome to me; finding this million-year-old person. Archeology is tied to religion, philosophy and history. It's the tracing that excites me more than the discovery, really.

KH: I love it! Here's another science question: What's your favorite science word and why?
LB: My favorite science word is why! And for that exact reason. It always brings about another question. Accept nothing until you can understand it.

KH: I always thought that the old saying "because I said so," wasn't good enough. I need to call my parents... Anyway, work aside, what do you do for fun? Any hobbies?
LB: I like theater, dance, watching my son playing soccer, event planning, biking and travel. I love to travel. I will try anything once, except camping. I have a rule. I enjoy the outdoors, but at night I'm supposed to have a shower, a bed and a central air unit.

KH: Only a few more questions now! MP3s or vinyl?
LB: I just love vinyl! You have album covers and posters. Sometimes I just need my vinyl.

KH: If there was a fire and you could save just one of your albums, which one would it be?
LB: First off, I wouldn't grab just one. I'd grab a series of Stevie Wonder.

KH: Just one.
LB: Fine. That would have to be "The Best of the Art of Noise" album. There's just something about that album.

KH: I know your husband is a techie, but how about you? PC or Mac?
LB: I have to go with PC. PCs allow a lot more building options. Macs are done for you. PCs can be changed; you can tinker.

KH: Doesn't hurt that you have a hubby at home that can build a PC out of scrap metal, huh?
LB: There are advantages.

KH: Last question: Chocolate or vanilla?
LB: Vanilla. Hands down. Some nice, rich vanilla.

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