Robert C. Cooper, a professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, died at his home in Martinez, Calif., on February 17, 2015.
Cooper was born in San Francisco in 1928 and grew up in Alameda, Calif. He was a member of the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health for more than 30 years.
He began his public health career at Berkeley where he received a BS in 1952. He then received an MS in microbiology and public health from Michigan State University in 1953, followed by three years in the Medical Service Corps of the U.S. Army. He returned to Michigan State, where he received a PhD in 1958. He was appointed to the Berkeley faculty that same year. At Berkeley he taught three generations of environmental engineers and environmental health microbiologists about the relationship between managing water and wastewater and the control of infectious diseases. Cooper’s laboratory sessions introduced the engineering student into the world of the microbe. His lectures introduced students to the practical public health aspects of the relationship between engineering controls and infectious diseases. He served as director of the Sanitary Engineering and Environmental Health Research Laboratory from 1980 to 1991. He retired from the Berkeley faculty in 1991 and became vice president of Biovir Laboratories in Benicia, Calif., where he remained active until his death.
Cooper’s research ranged from the development of microbiological laboratory methods to what is now called microbiological risk assessment. In the former area, Cooper was instrumental in the initial investigations on the fate of enteric viruses in the environment and he developed methods for virus isolation and detection from environmental media. This included survival of pathogens in seawater, shellfish, and on vegetables treated with reclaimed water. Cooper first applied the concept of microbial health risk assessment as part of his work with the United States Army Corp of Engineers in 1971 while evaluating the management wastewater disposal in the San Francisco Bay-Delta. The microbial health risk concepts were broadened further as part of his work for Governor Brown’s Office of Planning and Research on evaluating the public health effects on on-site wastewater disposal systems in California. Cooper was the principal investigator for City of San Diego Total Resource Recovery Health Effects Study from 1985 to 1997. Over this period, Cooper led a team of researchers at six California universities and the Department of Health Services to research a number of topics related to the indirect potable reuse of recycled water, the findings of which are directly relevant to California’s water challenges today.
Cooper served on numerous California and national committees addressing water recycling, disinfection, groundwater recharge, water quality, and biosolids issues. He served on the National Research Council Water Science and Technology Board for the National Water Quality Assessment and Committee on Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production and on the California Department of Public Health and Water Resources Control Board’s Health Effects Advisory Panel on Wastewater Reclamation. His contributions to these activities provided the direction and foundation for the next several decades for the State of California’s water reclamation criteria for potable and non-potable water reuse. In recent years his return to the laboratory resulted in a notable contribution to the development of EPA Method 1682 for the measurement of Salmonella in sewage sludge.
Cooper was a man of ever-present wit and humor who enjoyed sailing all his life and was a maritime history buff. He had a lifetime passion for learning, woodworking and storytelling. In addition to his rich family life and his academic and public service contributions, he leaves a rich legacy of memories and of quotable comments and observations to his family, friends, and former students. He is survived by his devoted wife of 56 years, Pat; his sister and best friend Anita Roche; four children; and nine grandchildren.