World Cancer Day 2020

February 4th marks World Cancer Day.  Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide with 9.6 million people dying from cancer each year – this number is predicted to almost double by 2030*. One of the key ways to help reduce public risk is Government action and accountability.  The EPA’s Brownfields Program and the Safe Drinking Water Act are two ways our government does just that.

What are some key cancer-causing contaminants we test for in our lab to support these programs? And what are the health effects?  In this issue, we dive into some of these important cancer-causing contaminants.

Brownfield and Land Revitalization

Assessing contamination potential at Brownfields is critical to ensuring sites can be reused to benefit our communities.  Over the past year we’ve performed more than 70,000 analyses for environmental consultants and facilities that responsibly dispose of harmful waste.

Contaminants often found at Brownfield sites include Lead, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).  Human exposure pathways are breathing dust or soil particles, consumption of contaminated water or food, and skin contact with contaminated dust and soil particles.


Sources of Lead contamination are usually mining, fuel, paint, inks, piping, battery and ammunition production.  In addition to causing cancer, Lead exposure can also cause damage to your brain, nerves, organs and bones.

Our lab has performs analyses for Lead using various methods, including EPA 200.7 and SW 846 6010/6020 using Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) technology. Methods used depend on sample characteristics and reporting limit requirements.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs usually originate from industry and commercial product solvents, degreasers, paint strippers, and dry cleaning operations.  In addition to causing various types of cancers, VOC exposure can also cause eye irritation, nausea, and damage to your kidney, liver and nervous systems.

Over the past  year, our chemists have seen more than 11,000 VOC analyses pass through our laboratory via various methods, including EPA 624 and SW 846 8260. These tests are performed using state-of-the art Gas Chromatography / Mass Spectometry (GC/MS) technology.

Safe Drinking Water Act Analysis

Approximately 150,000 public water systems provide drinking water to Americans, and we perform high volumes of drinking water testing required of public water suppliers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.  Over the past year we’ve performed over 83,000 analyses in support of SDWA testing requirements. Two examples of the many cancer-causing contaminants we test for are Arsenic and Nitrate.


Arsenic is considered an Inorganic Contaminant (IOC) and EPA adopted a more stringent limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) in 2001, down from the previous 50 ppb limit.  It comes from erosion of natural deposits, runoff from orchards, run off from glass and electronic production wastes.  It causes cancer of the bladder, lungs and skin.

Analyses for Arsenic in drinking water is performed via method EPA 200.8, which is analysis by Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS).  We can analyze for many other trace metals using this method, such as Lead and Copper.   Our standard reporting limit for Arsenic under 200.8 is .001 parts per million.


Second only to Total Coliform and E.Coli, Nitrate is a contaminant that requires frequent monitoring.  Increased risks of colon, kidney, and stomach cancer were observed among those with higher ingestion of water nitrate and higher meat intake compared with low intakes of both

Nitrate contamination often originates from runnoff from fertilizer use, leaking from septic tanks, sewage, erosion of natural deposits.

We have multiple ways of analyzing Nitrate, including method EPA 300.0 using Ion Chromatography in our Inorganic Chemistry department.  The Maximum Contaminant Level set by EPA is 10 ppm, and we routinely analyze down to the 1 ppm level.

Drinking water from private ground water wells is not regulated or tested for, unless the homeowner independently elects to do so.


*Source – Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)

(water+hops+barley) + wings + pizza = Super Bowl Sunday

How does our job relate to the Super Bowl? Forbes estimates that Americans are drinking 325 million gallons of beer during the weekend of the big game.  Whatever people are drinking, it takes a lot to wash down all the pizza and chicken wings.  Super Bowl Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving in food consumption.

We test drinking water in 4 states that serve nearly 3 million people.  Water for your taps, water that gets bottled, water used to make vended ice, and yes, water that’s used in beer production.

Since the last Super Bowl, we’ve performed over 83,000 analyses for public water suppliers.  Total Coliform and E.coli bacteria are the highest volume test we perform, accounting  for about 30% of total analysis volume.  But we also test for many other important toxic contaminants such as Lead, Pesticides, and Nitrates. It’s a very important job, and we take every analysis seriously.

So if you’re washing down some guacamole with, say, a local craft beer – we may have tested the water used to make it.  It’s all in our pursuit to help protect public health and preserve the environment.

Dr. Martin Luther King, JR. Day of Service

Make it a day ON, not a day off

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service 2020 is Monday, January 20th. Americans began commemorating MLK Jr’s birthday through legislation in 1983 as a federal holiday, and it was decided to be the third Monday of every January. Instead of it being a day off, in 1994 Congress designated the federal holiday as a “National Day of Service” and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort.

The Corporation states that the day is “intended to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, create solutions to social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community.”

Check out the links below for ideas for how you can have an impact by volunteering in your community!

The #MLKDayofService is a good reminder to all of us that we can give back to our community any day of the year, not just the third Monday of each January.

As a part of our mission statement, Suburban Testing Labs offers 16 hours of paid Volunteer Time Off (VTO) as a part of our employee benefits. The purpose of this philanthropic program is to support activities that enhance and serve communities we live and work, and the issues that impact quality of life.

Our employees enjoy their experiences using VTO, and the activity is important to them. Our employees inspire us not only with their hard work and diligence, but with the passion they share for giving back. Share your stories with us on our social media feed. Comment on our posts, or post with the hashtag #SuburbanGivesBack.

2019 Holiday Hours

While our laboratory operates 365 Days per year, our office does observe holiday hours for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

We ask that samples are dropped off at our laboratory by 1:00 as shown below so our analysts can be with their families as much as possible.

Sample pick-up and collection changes will be arranged by your project manager.

Warmest wishes of the Season from our family to yours!

Analysis of Nutrients in Waters

Total Phosphorous, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, Nitrate, and Nitrite are important nutrients for wastewater treatment plants to remove in their treatment processes.  Excessive nutrients in our natural bodies of water stimulate algae and plant growth, create dissolved oxygen issues, and limits the ability of marine life to thrive.  Before wastewater is discharged, operators are challenged with removing these nutrients during the treatment process to protect our rivers, lakes and streams.

Since the Chesapeake Bay Program began to take shape in 2010, many wastewater treatment plants invested in new technologies to achieve nutrient removal requirements.  At the same time new testing requirements and limits began to appear on NPDES permits, and now we are seeing low level compliance requirements statewide.

When samples are collected, how do we test for them?  We wanted to share one important part of our Inorganic Chemistry Department that our clients rely on for the analysis and reporting of nutrient concentration in their treated wastewater to ensure the preservation of our natural water environment.


In the past 12 months our lab has processed over 37,000 samples for nutrient analysis.  Our chemists and lab analyst utilize Flow Injection Analysis (FIA) and Segmented Flow Analysis (SFA) to process these samples.  Our number one goal is always high quality, defensible data.  But these instruments also have the advantage of delivering results to our clients faster, enabling them to make important treatment decisions. 

Flow Injection Analysis (FIA)

Our FIAs are powerful automated chemistry analyzers used for performing analysis on TKN, Nitrate/Nitrite (Combined), and Cyanide (Total and Free).  The continuous flow of samples through the instrument allow us to meet high demand and sample throughput with incredible accuracy.  The instrument consists of an autosampler, a peristaltic pump, a power base module, and detector equipped to analyze. 

Segmented Flow Analysis (SFA)

Our SFA system is primarily used for the analysis of Total Phosphorus, and has the capability to analyze Ammonia, and Nitrate/Nitrite Combined.  The SFA instrumentation operates similarly to a FIA.  Both Segmented Flow Analysis (SFA) and Flow Injection Analysis (FIA) are continuous flow methods that rapidly process large numbers of samples. SFA analysis also adds an inline digestion step which removes the need for separate digestion preparation, and improves opportunities for acceptable quality control, limiting the need for re-analysis.

SFA and FIA utilize the same basic operation including a peristaltic pump that continuously merges samples and reagents in exact proportions that are determined by the internal diameter of plastic pump tubing. The primary analytical difference between SFA and FIA is that SFA mixes by turbulence produced by the introduction of a segmentation gas (bubbles) and FIA relies on dispersion and generation of an asymmetric Gaussian shaped color gradient with a detector response being proportional to concentration.1

As noted above, both FIA and SFA provide the Nitrate/Nitrite Combined result.  For quantitative results of the individual constituents, our chemists utilize Ion Chromatography, a different technology and method altogether.


Our team of analysts work nearly around the clock processing samples from multiple states in the mid-Atlantic region.  Our goal is to get our clients data fast, and so it takes a lot of coordination, communication, and collaboration from our team to make that happen.

While speed is important, high quality, defensible data always comes first.  After our analysts prepare, analyze, and enter results for these samples, our team of Quality Specialists validate the results and quality control associated with each batch of analysis. 

Following validation by our Quality Team, our Clients Services Team then reviews the data again, following a specific checklist of criteria before the results can be released to the client.  Once approved, our client receives the report. 

Our mission is to provide high quality, defensible lab testing data from all our various departments to our clients that is needed for decision making in order to protect the health of the environment, and the public.  While this happens in many departments, the Gravimetric Lab is essential to the success of our overall company mission, and for the decision making of our clientele. 

To speak to a Suburban Testing Labs representative about our testing services or to learn more about our technical resources, contact us anytime.

1 –  Source:

Gravimetric Analysis

We have a lot of state-of-the art equipment in complex areas of our laboratory, but some parts of the environmental laboratory that rarely get talked about are in fact those that have the highest sample volumes and are critical to environmental decision making.  One example of that is our Gravimetric Laboratory.

Over the past 12 months we’ve performed over 43,400 tests in our Gravimetric Lab, which is part of our Inorganic Chemistry Department.  Tests analyzed here include Total Suspended Solids, Total Dissolved Solids, and Total Solids.  What type of clients typically perform these tests, and what’s the difference between them?  We wanted to shed some light on this very busy and very important area of our laboratory.

Common Client Types

The most common client type performing solids analysis is a wastewater treatment plant requesting Total Suspended Solids.  These tests are required by the Department of Environmental Protection to ensure that plants discharging into our natural bodies of water are not exceeding limits on solid materials which could be harmful to aquatic life. High levels of suspended solids will decrease Dissolved Oxygen (DO) levels and could increase water temperatures by absorbing more heat from solar radiation. 

Another common purpose for performing solids analysis is to support Environmental Site Assessments, where a client is trying to determine potential or existing environmental contamination liabilities of a property.  Typically, Environmental Engineers and Consultants are working to examine if there is soil, ground water or surface water contamination, and will collect samples for various contaminants, including the determination of percent solids or moisture content of the samples. 

The Differences

Total Suspended Solids (TSS)

TSS is the measurement of the particles that are floating or suspended in the water sample.  We trap suspended particles with a pre-weighed filter using a filtration apparatus.  Filters are dried to remove excess moisture, then are weighed to determine the particulates present in the water sample.  Samples are typically taken at the Effluent (point after treatment) but are often also collected at the Influent (prior to treatment) as well.

TSS is listed as a “Conventional Pollutant” in the Clean Water Act, which means that it is amenable to treatment by a wastewater treatment plant.  Other Conventional Pollutants include: BOD, Fecal Coliform, Oil & Grease, and pH.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

TDS measures the combined total of organic and inorganic substances dissolved in the water sample.  Although TDS are not considered a primary or conventional pollutant, it is commonly composed of calcium, phosphorous, nitrates, and other dissolved minerals.  Clients may test for specific contaminants that may be dissolved in the water separately to determine the concentration of these constituents. Analysis procedures require filtration of the sample to remove any suspended solids. The filtrate of the sample is collected in a vessel, dried to remove moisture, then weighed to determine the total dissolved substance of the sample.

Total Solids or Percent Solids

Total Solids in waters is the total of all the solids in a sample.  They include TSS, TDS, and Volatile components. In water, total solids will affect water clarity.  Higher solids decrease the passage of light through water, slowing plant growth.  The results are expressed in mg/L.   

In soil, the solids content is the quantity of solid materials the soil contains separate from the moisture content.  In addition to water and soil, total solids are also analyzed on biosolids, sludge and various solid materials for hazardous waste determination. This measurement is reported as a percentage when performed on solid matrices. 

Analysis procedures include measuring the weight of the sample before and after a drying process is completed, designed to remove any moisture content from the sample.

Total Solids analysis is often needed to calculate other results that are obtained in the laboratory by other analysis methods. 


Our team of analysts work nearly around the clock processing samples from multiple states in the mid-Atlantic region.  Our goal is to get our clients data fast, and so it takes a lot of coordination, communication, and collaboration from our team to make that happen.

While speed is important, high quality, defensible data always comes first.  After our analysts prepare, analyze, and enter results for these samples, our team of Quality Specialists validate the results and quality control associated with each batch of analysis. 

Following validation by our Quality Team, our Clients Services Team then reviews the data again, following a specific checklist of criteria before the results can be released to the client.  Once approved, our client receives the report. 

Our mission is to provide high quality, defensible lab testing data from all our various departments to our clients that is needed for decision making in order to protect the health of the environment, and the public.  While this happens in many departments, the Gravimetric Lab is essential to the success of our overall company mission, and for the decision making of our clientele. 

To speak to a Suburban Testing Labs representative about our testing services or to learn more about our technical resources, contact us anytime.

Tailgate Party Giveaway

Fall is here, and so is football, grilling, and backyard fire pit season. To celebrate this great season, we are doing one last giveaway for the season.

Enter to win our Suburban Tailgate Party Basket, which includes:

Tailgating Giveaway
  • $25 Gift Card to Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Suburban Testing Labs Beer Mug
  • HydraPeak 12oz Travel Mug for your Drink of Choice
  • Football
  • Spice Rub & Hot Sauces
  • Wood and Metal Crate
  • Hot Mitts, Kitchen Towel, and Grill Scrubber

Deadline to enter is 11:59 EST Monday, September 30, 2019. Winner will be notified Tuesday, October 1st. Good luck!

Back to School 2019 Giveaway

Summer is unofficially ending this weekend, and kids are headed back to school. We thought we’d celebrate the start of fall with a fun Suburban Swag Giveaway Contest!

The basket includes:

  • Suburban Testing Labs Moleskine Journal
  • $25 Gift Card to Target
  • Insulated Lunch Bag
  • Glass Reusable Water Bottle
  • Silicone Reusable Straws
  • Fancy Pen Set
  • Metal Storage Basket
  • and Smarties!

Deadline to enter is 11:59 EST Monday, September 2, 2019. Winner will be notified Tuesday, September 3rd. Good luck!

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.

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