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.

Instrumentation

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.

Analysis

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: https://www.ezkem.com/faq-items/sfa-fia/

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. 

Analysis

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.

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.

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