Water Wednesday: Thank a Chemist (or a Microbiologist)

By Jeffery Robichaud

Region 7 Science and Technology Center

Region 7 Science and Technology Center

If you religiously follow The Big Blue Thread – or more accurately, my pun-laden blog entries – you might have noticed that I switched from Deputy Director of our Environmental Sciences and Technology Division to Deputy Director of our Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. My former group is responsible for numerous cutting-edge scientific endeavors, especially the cool work that goes on in our Region 7 Science and Technology Center, one of 10 EPA regional labs across the country.

So I wanted to give my former colleagues a shout-out and long overdue thanks ahead of time. April 19-25 is National Environmental Laboratory Professionals Week. This week was established by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) to celebrate environmental and public health labs that are responsible for protecting our health by analyzing water, soil and air, as well as contaminants in people, through chemical, biological or radiological testing.

In my new job, we rely heavily on the work of all the folks at our laboratory, who ensure that we receive timely and accurate analytical results regarding the quality of our waters. These results form the basis of numerous decisions, support our understanding of environmental conditions, and are used to bolster enforcement actions. We benefit from the hard work and talents of many professionals who serve the public behind the doors of our laboratory. However, because of shows like “NCIS” and “Bones,” the public gets a really skewed image of how these labs operate.

You don’t waltz in off the street, drop off a sample in a plastic baggie, and pop back 24 hours later to get your answer. In reality, laboratories function through an intricate dance of numerous staff involved in sample and container preparation, shipping and receiving, quality assurance, chain of custody, health and safety, data systems, and countless other tasks before the first sample is even brought to the chemists or microbiologists to begin their analysis.

So a hearty “thank you” goes out to the professionals at 300 Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. Keep up the fantastic work! We couldn’t do our own work without you.

Be sure to take some time April 19-25 to send your own shout-out to your state or local environmental laboratory, whether by setting up a tour or simply sending a tweet. (Let’s help APHL get #LabWeek trending.)

Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. If you attended the University of Pennsylvania and took Inorganic Chemistry Lab during the early 1990s, you probably checked out an Erlenmeyer flask from him. (And he’s sorry about having to charge you for that lost thermometer!)

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