Environmental Lab protects local waters and public health

With more and more people enjoying water activities across our region each year, the work of the King County Environmental Laboratory is more important than ever in protecting the health of local waterways, wildlife and people.

With five different lab areas, Lab employees are constantly collecting samples, analyzing environmental samples and generating data to protect the environment and those that live in it, Kate Leone, the Environmental Programs Section Manager, said.

Unlike other laboratories, the Lab is a full service lab, meaning it runs through all the steps, from project planning, sample collection ­and testing, through to data generation. It processes an average of 15,000 samples in a year, which it uses to advise on environmental policy and to generate environmental data points.

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While Lab employees monitor many areas, they test routinely in Lake Washington, Lake Union, Lake Sammamish, streams, Puget Sound and the Lower Duwamish River. They also test around bio solids application sites, do analysis in support of the Industrial Waste Program, and assist the County’s sewage treatment plants with special studies.

From the data it collects, King County is able to do long-term trend analysis to track how healthy the water bodies are and to see if the water is getting cleaner or more polluted.

The Lab is accredited by the Washington State Department of Ecology, which during a recent audit deemed it an “exemplary laboratory” whose “dedication to quality assurance and the production of accurate and defensible data is evident throughout the lab.”

“The Lab strives to maintain a very high level of data quality,” Leone said.

To protect and monitor the environment the Lab has a specialized field science unit that collects water, sediment and storm samples at a variety of sites. The samples collected are brought back to the Lab where tests are run in five lab areas consisting of microbiology, aquatic toxicology, conventionals, trace metals, and trace organics. The data collected is uploaded to the Laboratory Management Information System, which is accessed by planners who use the data for their studies.

When the Lab detects high levels of contaminants in the water that could cause health concerns to people, such as fecal coliform contamination of swimming beaches, employees work with Public Health – Seattle & King County to close beaches and inform people of the danger. Another danger to both environmental and public health is toxic algae, which the Lab tests for throughout the region.

The Lab also runs the Trouble Call program which responds to  water quality  emergencies such as sewage overflows, fuel spills, illegal dumping and erosion control, that can impact King County surface waters.

To learn more about what the Environmental Lab tests for, click here.