Lab Matters Summer 2019 - Page 37

MEMBERSHIP Testing and Program Support SELS is comprised of the following units: Lab Customer Assistance, Statewide Sample and Data Management, General Chemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Metals, Radiochemistry, Organic GC, and Organic GC/MS. The Quality System Unit oversees all testing and the Laboratory Accreditation Program, as well as the method and quality assurance requirements for a myriad of EPA programs. The laboratory provides technical and analytical support to four different EPA programs: Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and CERCLA, also know as Superfund. It is also the EPA Principal Laboratory for drinking water. “We test drinking water for the state and certify public and private labs to ensure analytical capacity,” says Armstrong, which encompasses over 1,600 public water supply (PWS) systems. And as oil and gas production—as well as seismicity—have increased, so have private well water issues and related assistance “We also have a lot of small communities, with very little means, that rely on us for water testing.” In fact, requests for private water issues have quadrupled over the past five years, with the laboratory responding to over 12,000 requests in 2018. PublicHealthLabs @APHL The laboratory also runs a Laboratory Accreditation Program to insure the quality of analytical data received by the DEQ Water Quality Division and other state agencies for compliance and decision making purposes. The overarching goal is to provide standards for accreditation of privately and publicly owned laboratories for performance of analyses of water, wastewater and sludge. Through a state legislative requirement, DEQ is responsible for investigating environmental complaints across the state with the laboratory providing sample collection and analytical support. SELS provides in-depth technical assistance for complex complaint investigations and fish kills with analyte selection, sampling assistance, data interpretation and risk assessment. These may become criminal investigations requiring laboratory sampling assistance and are routinely an analytical challenge. SELS also provides technical and analytical support for the Air Quality, Well Water Quality, Land Protection, and Environmental Compliance and Local Services divisions of DEQ. It performs PWS compliance testing as well as ambient surface water monitoring and groundwater monitoring. It performs hydrocarbon and inorganic testing to support the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, and its Harmful Algal Bloom Program performs sample identification, enumeration and toxic testing for threatened public water supplies. SELS provides fish testing for 97 lakes across the state, testing for mercury levels, and is responsible for issuing consumption advisories as needed. In 2011, the state found itself involved in its first large harmful algal bloom on Grand Lake, but SELS was able to respond because of its existing sample identification, numeration and toxin testing program. SELS is in the process of implementing qPCR for surface water and source water monitoring to assist with these efforts. The laboratory also serves as a first responder during emergency events, providing free well testing for private citizens and PWS testing at no charge. “Emergency response might be a herbicide back siphoned into a PWS, fire pollutants headed downstream toward PWS intakes from Neodsha, KS to the Veridgris River, or pathogenic E. coli isolates from contaminated ground water.” Successes • The Laboratory Accreditation Program is now The NELAC Institute (TNI) Accreditation Body in the state of Oklahoma • Increasing the technical capability and expertise of the Microbiology Section • Re-implementing and expanding radiochemistry program: “We’ve really expanded the program over the last 12 years.” Performing electrofishing for the mercury testing program. Photo: SELS • Implement a new LIMS system: “For the first time, we’re able to actually interface instrumentation and quality control.” • Improving data quality and reproducibility Challenges • Lack of understanding of public health and, more specifically, of environmental public health. “Sometimes it’s difficult to convey the scope of the work that we do, and its effect on the public.” • Funding: “We’ve had state funding cuts every year for the past 10 years. But I’m thankful that our director has really made an effort to pay our staff market value. Couple that with increases in instrumentation expenses and training requirements, and we’re sometimes straining to cover all programs.” • Succession planning: “We’ve been staff stable for a good period of time, but over the last four years we’ve seen some turnover. As folks leave and new staff come on board, we need to plan for those transitions now.” • Centralized systems: “IT and purchasing support have been challenging under a centralized state system. A laboratory has very specialized systems needs that are sometimes hard to convey in a memo or purchase order.” • As downtown Oklahoma City continues to thrive, there is a lot of real estate interest in the current building. “The only thing that is preventing the sale of the building is the laboratory.” n Summer 2019 LAB MATTERS 35