Dogs are dying from harmful algae in lakes and ponds. So what does that mean for your drinking water?

Harmful Blue-Green Algae Blooms in fresh water are toxic, and multiply in hot weather.

Harmful blue-green algae toxic to dogs and humans cyanotoxins
Harmful Blue-Green Algae

Warm summer weather encourages us to head to nearby lakes and ponds for a swim, and sometimes we bring our family dog along. But recently, these outings have turned deadly for man’s best friend.

Alarming stories of dogs dying after swimming in water contaminated with harmful algal blooms have been widely circulated recently.  The dogs have perished quickly, sometimes as fast as an hour after swimming. 

Human exposure to these toxins can result in adverse health effects including gastroenteritis, liver, and kidney damage.  Many public utilities use surface water sources, such as rivers and lakes, as drinking water supplies.  Even some ground water sources are under the direct influence of surface water.

What is the local impact of Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB)?  And how concerned should we be about our water supplies?

What are HABs?

Surface water runoff from the shore, usually after substantial rain events, thrust an excess of nutrients into surface waters.  These nutrients, mixed with high temperatures, cause algae to grow excessively.  These algal colonies eat up the oxygen supply as they grow and decay, which smothers aquatic life.  They usually discolor the water and form large smelly piles on the surface. 

However, not all algae is toxic.

HABs occur when colonies of algae grow out of control and produce toxic effects on people and marine life.  Some freshwater algal blooms produce highly potent toxins, known as cyanotoxins. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are frequently found in freshwater systems.  These cyanotoxins can pose a risk to human health (US EPA 2014a).  

These cyanotoxins are produced and contained within cyanobacterial cells (intracellular).  According to the US-EPA, the release of these toxins in an algal bloom into the surrounding water occurs mostly during cell death and lysis (i.e., cell rupture) as opposed to continuous excretion from the cyanobacterial cells. However, some cyanobacteria species are capable of releasing toxins (extracellular) into the water without cell rupture or death.

Drinking Water Treatment

Knowing we have many clients that use surface waters as sources for public drinking water consumption, we wanted to know how they are managing this recent spike of HAB reports.

Blue Marsh Lake Tulpehocken Creek Reading, Berks County, PA
Blue Marsh Lake northwest of Reading, Berks County, PA

We reached out to a local expert, Matt Walborn of Western Berks Water Authority, who serves high quality drinking water to more than 50,000 Berks County residents.  The utility uses Blue Marsh Lake as a water source for some of its customers.

“We are well equipped to remove any HABs that may exist with three particular stages of our treatment systems:  our Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF), our Powdered Activated Carbon (PAC), and effective oxidation using chlorine disinfection,” said Mr. Walborn.  “Whether intracellular or extracellular HABs existed, we would be able to effectively treat for it.”

Western Berks Water Authority works closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers, who manages Blue Marsh Lake and actively communicates with them to understand the health of the water supply.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has been testing Blue Marsh for HABs weekly.   

Acceptable Levels of Cyanotoxins in Drinking Water

There are no “acceptable levels” established for cyanotoxin consumption in the Safe Drinking Water Act.  But in 2015 the EPA did release a “Health Advisory” (HA) for Cyanobacteral Toxins, which stops short of regulating the contaminant for testing.  This HA established non-regulatory contaminant technical guidance, including levels of harmful consumption and health effects.  They also published guidance for Public Water Systems to manage cyanotoxins in drinking water, including providing treatment recommendations.  The methods of treatment used by Western Berks Water Authority are included in the USEPA’s recommendations for cyanotoxin removal.

Testing for Cyanotoxins

Cyanotoxin contaminants are on the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) for possible addition to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

To understand the scope of cyanotoxin contamination in public water supplies, the USEPA is currently requiring water supplies that serve more than 10,000 people to test for nine cyanotoxins and one cyanotoxin group as a part of The Fourth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR4).   Every five years the EPA issues a new list of contaminants to be monitored to establish if they should be added to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s list of required monitoring.  In the meantime, the HA is the only guidance EPA has given.

Cyanotoxin samples are collected after treatment and disinfection, but before the water enters the distribution system, or at the Entry Point to the Distribution System.  There are three approved methods for testing.

UCMR4 Cyanotoxin Testing Contaminant MRL Method EPA 546 EPA 544 EPA 545

Testing to Support Infrastructure

Vacations require transportation.  Whether you’re driving, flying or taking a bus, you need to get from here to there somehow.

It’s rare to travel anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region during the summer without encountering road construction of some sort.  While this can be a giant pain for travelers and commuters, the long-term benefit is important.  And here at Suburban Testing Labs… we love infrastructure projects.

Investments in transportation infrastructure improvements are important to our way of life as Americans.  Safety on roads and bridges are a top priority.  Reduction in travel time and traffic congestion are also important  benefits.

Most of our readers are probably aware that some demolished construction materials and reclaimed fill (soil, dirt and other materials) can be recycled into new asphalt products or road base materials.  Our laboratories analyze soil, and various types of solid materials, every day to determine if it is safe for beneficial reuse, or if it should be classified as hazardous.

In addition, we analyze soil, solids and groundwater for large expansion projects involving major redevelopment, highway, airport, and rail projects (just to name a few).

We are proud to support the preservation of our environment, and growth of our transportation infrastructure with our laboratory testing.  Our analysts passionately pursue perfection in data quality so our clients can make important environmental decisions.

The next time you’re driving on a new stretch of highway, crossing a new bridge, or boarding at an airport, look around, marvel at the engineering work.  Then wonder to yourself “was my lab involved in the testing here?”  We very may well have been.

July 4th Celebration Giveaway!

We have one more giveaway this summer to fire up our fans. We want to celebrate our clients and friends to say thank you for your partnership! Enter to win our Bourbon & BBQ Basket, which includes:

  • Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
  • BBQ Seasoning Set
  • Cold Drinks Metal Bucket (with legs!)
  • Whiskey Glasses
  • Square Ice Mold
  • Cool Coasters & Tea Towel
  • Suburban Testing Labs Tasting Glass and Ceramic Coaster
  • Chocolates with Sea Salt for Pairings

July 4th Bourbon & BBQ Basket Giveaway Entry Form

Deadline to enter is Wednesday, July 3rd at 11:59 PM EST.

Laboratory Analysis Interference – Part 3

Lab Analysis Interference - Matrix Interference

In this final installment of our three-part series, we will describe some common interferences our laboratory analysts encounter that may explain why some of your data has, for example, higher reporting limits or qualifiers.

Laboratory Analysis Interference, also referred to as matrix interference, occurs when non-target analytes or physical/chemical characteristics of a sample prevent quantification of the analytes of interest.  This can cause increased uncertainty in the result reported to the client.  Sometimes, additional preparation and/or analysis is unavoidable to mitigate the effects of the interference and obtain usable data.  Ultimately, analysis interference can have a dramatic impact on your data and may be difficult to clarify, resolve and understand.

Part 3.  Chromatographic Overlap

How it Happens

A normal chromatogram will have clearly defined peaks and valleys indicating the concentration of a particular analyte in a sample.  However, sometimes we will see unusually shaped peaks or overlapping peaks which indicate matrix interference.  This may mean one or more analytes are present at very high levels.

How to Overcome and Data Impact

To overcome this challenge and get more reliable data, we can attempt to run the sample via a different method (if available) or dilute the sample.  Sometimes multiple analyses at multiple dilutions may be required.  This can extend turnaround times and may result in additional analytical costs.  As with the case of VOCs and foaming, dilutions will result in elevated reporting limits.  For example, a normal Nitrate reporting limit may be 0.2 mg/L, but with a 25-time dilution, the reporting limit would be 5.0 mg/L.

Avoid costly resampling due to lack of lab communication or partnership oversights.  Choose our team of highly dedicated professionals for your next project. Contact our team for more information.

2019 Top 50 Business Recognition

Our Team is celebrating today.  #22 on the list of Greater Reading Top 50 Businesses according to the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, published today in the Reading Eagle Business Weekly.   We have been appearing on this list every year since we were eligible, and once again are featured in the top half.

Awards will be given to these top businesses on May 23, 2019 at the Annual Chamber Dinner. The dinner will allow guests to pend an evening with Hollywood icon Henry Winkler. His warm personality and humor will charm you as he shares anecdotes about his storied career in television and entertainment, inspirational life lessons, as well as his personal story about overcoming adversity.

“This Suburban Family is a group of talented professionals passionately pursuing excellence while protecting public health, and the environment.” Said Sara Stump, Director at Suburban Testing Labs.  “I credit our team’s adherence to our four core values as the root of our success: quality, integrity, innovation and commitment.  To be successful here you have to work in harmony with our values.”

Suburban Testing Labs is a nationally recognized independent environmental testing laboratory specializing in analysis of water, wastewater, soil, and solid materials.  We are accredited in accordance with NELAC (National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Conference) and commit to providing defensible data at a competitive price with first-class customer service.

Suburban Testing Laboratories has 56 years of experience in environmental testing for microbiological, inorganic and organic contaminants.     We continuously rank on the list of Greater Reading’s Top 50 Businesses.

Laboratory Analysis Interference – Part 2

Lab Analysis Interference - Matrix Interference

In this three-part series, we will describe some common interferences our laboratory analysts encounter that may explain why some of your data has, for example, higher reporting limits or qualifiers.

Laboratory Analysis Interference, also referred to as matrix interference, occurs when non-target analytes or physical/chemical characteristics of a sample prevent quantification of the analytes of interest.  This can cause increased uncertainty in the result reported to the client.  Sometimes, additional preparation and/or analysis is unavoidable to mitigate the effects of the interference and obtain usable data.  Ultimately, analysis interference can have a dramatic impact on your data and may be difficult to clarify, resolve and understand.

Part 2. High Concentration Metals

How it Happens

Samples for metals are typically analyzed using an Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) or ICP-MS instrument, where multiple metals are being analyzed at the same time.  This is achieved by ionizing the sample with inductively coupled plasma, and then using a mass spectrometer or atomic emission spectroscopy to separate and quantify those ions.  When there is a high concentration of one or more analytes, the analysis process in the instrument can be drastically disrupted, and even cause damage to the instrument itself.

How to Overcome and Data Impact

The only good way to overcome this is using dilutions.  You can choose to analyze the sample using multiple dilutions, but the risk is that you may have to reimburse for the repair of any instrument damage it may cause.  You can choose to only analyze at a dilution, but then your reporting limits will be elevated, and you may miss detections at levels lower than the elevated reporting limit.  This can be a challenging decision. 

For example, let’s say your analyzing for Zinc, Lead and Arsenic.  An initial run yields an extremely high zinc concentration, a detection of 0.004 mg/L for Lead, and a <0.002 mg/L result for Arsenic.  To get a valid Zinc result the analyst may do a 1000-time dilution, which gets you a Zinc result of 85.3mg/L, but now Lead and Arsenic show as non-detects at <2.00 mg/L.  This can have a big impact on your project.  

Avoid costly resampling due to lack of lab communication or partnership oversights.  Choose our team of highly dedicated professionals for your next project. Contact our team for more information.

Laboratory Analysis Interference – Part 1

Lab Analysis Interference - Matrix Interference

In this three-part series, we will describe some common interferences our laboratory analysts encounter that may explain why some of your data has, for example, higher reporting limits or qualifiers.

Laboratory Analysis Interference, also referred to as matrix interference, occurs when non-target analytes or physical/chemical characteristics of a sample prevent quantification of the analytes of interest.  This can cause increased uncertainty in the result reported to the client.  Sometimes, additional preparation and/or analysis is unavoidable to mitigate the effects of the interference and obtain usable data.  Ultimately, analysis interference can have a dramatic impact on your data and may be difficult to clarify, resolve and understand.

Part 1: VOCs and Foaming

How it Happens

The sample’s introduction to the analytical system involves purging the analytes of interest from the liquid by bubbling a gas through the sample.  If the sample contains compounds that act as foaming reagents or surfactants (ie: soap), this process can produce foam.  Large amounts of foam can overflow past the purging vessel and cause damage to the instrumentation.  This damage requires maintenance and recalibration and will result in an inability to obtain valid results.

How to Overcome and Data Impact

The only way to really overcome this scenario is to dilute the sample.  However, this will elevate reporting limits for all analytes.  For example, a normal reporting limit may be 0.0005 mg/L, but with a 100-time dilution, the reporting limit would be 0.0500 mg/L.  Multiple analyses may also result in unforeseen extensions of turnaround times and additional analytical costs. 

Avoid costly resampling due to lack of lab communication or partnership oversights.  Choose our team of highly dedicated professionals for your next project. Contact our team for more information.

Drowning in Lab Problems? Let Us Keep You Afloat.

Missed turnaround times? Unanswered questions or data inquiries?

If any of this sounds familiar, you may be drowning in lab problems. Suburban Testing Labs can help.

Our project turnaround time is currently running at 98.6%. This means we give you deadlines you can trust, and you get your report when you’re supposed to, often earlier than expected.

In addition to fast turnaround times, environmental testing requires a strong commitment to servicing the client.  Our sizable, and local, Client Services Team is dedicated to making your project a success by reliably responding to the needs of our clients.

More About our Client Services Team

Our Client Services Department is comprised of a highly trained team of dedicated professionals.  Your expert Project Manager is assigned to you based on matching experience, and they serve as your main point of contact for any and all account needs.  From ordering sample containers, to technical questions, they are there to get the answers you need.

When it comes to reporting, Suburban Testing Labs has you covered.   We recognize that you can’t wait for results!  We have fast turnaround times, and you’ll have easy access to live data and final reports using our secure Online Report Access system. Routinely, you have three ways of receiving results reports: automatic email, online report access, and a hard copy.  And yes – you can have multiple users receive emails and have online access.

When you require specific electronic reporting/EDD’s, we are here to customize your data deliverables according to your needs.  Plus, we can automate your custom reports directly from our LIMS.

Avoid costly resampling due to lack of lab communication or partnership oversights.  Choose our team of highly dedicated professionals for your next project.

Earth Day 2019

Happy Earth Day!  For us, Earth Day is every day.  It’s what we do.  

Last year we performed over 360,000 analyses and received more than 130,000 samples.  This testing is done to ensure our natural waterways are free of harmful pollution, our soils are free of contamination, and our drinking water is safe for millions of Americans to consume. 

Our core mission is to provide accurate, sound and defensible data needed to support environmental decision making. Our relentless dedication to customers, our team, & ourselves builds relationships that preserve the health of our environment.

On this day, and every day, we are reminded to care for the planet and do our part to protect the future of generations to come. 

What can you do to have an impact?

It doesn’t take a huge effort to have an important impact.  Here are some easy ideas we’ve rounded up for you to consider adopting today.

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/04/22/1807238/0/en/Recycling-Works-on-Earth-Day-and-Every-Day.html

https://www.mnn.com/family/family-activities/blogs/10-green-ideas-for-earth-day

New Online Access Feature

ClientConnect Tutorial from Promium Screen ShotA new Search feature has been added to our online report access portal, SuburbanClientConnect.  To help our clients learn about this very valuable function, we are sharing a new Online Video Tutorial, produced by Promium, the vendor that developed the software.

Get the basics of how to navigate SuburbanClientConnect in this short video.  Learn how you can view your orders, analysis status, results, and even use the new “search” feature.

TIP: If you’re only interested in the new Search feature, fast forward to 3:19.

CLICK HERE to view this new video in Suburban Academy.

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