Oregon Laboratory & Environmental Assessment Division : A Leader in Protecting Air and Water Quality
By Jody DeVoll , MAT , writer
Oregon is a state of great natural beauty . From its rock-strewn coastline to Mt . Hood , Crater Lake and the Columbia River Gorge , the state offers postcard views from border to border . Its water resources include more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 1,400 named lakes . But increasingly , Oregon ’ s beauty , and the recreational resources they afford , are at risk . Toxic algal blooms , chemical and pharmaceutical pollution , and wildfires threaten quality of life for people and wildlife in Oregon . Particularly devastating have been the wildfires of 2020 and 2021 that turned vibrant towns and dense forests into fields of white ash .
Oregon ’ s Laboratory and Environmental Assessment Division ( LEAD ) strives to protect Oregonians and the state ’ s natural resources by monitoring and reporting water and air quality data . True to its acronym , LEAD stands in the vanguard of state programs protecting environmental quality . It uses emerging technologies , state-designed equipment , state-ofthe-art data analysis and other innovative approaches to achieve its goals .
LEAD , like the Department of Environmental Quality ( DEQ ) in which it resides , dates back more than 50 years to 1969 , shortly before the US Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) was established . The laboratory was one of the first services launched by DEQ , and it has continued through many iterations up to the present .
LEAD shares a facility with the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory . LEAD occupies approximately 40,000 square feet in one wing and the public health laboratory holds comparable footage in the other . The building was completed in 2007 , allowing its future administrator to begin work in a sparkling new facility when she arrived in Oregon in 2008 .
The staff of the Oregon Laboratory and Environmental Assessment Division ( taken in 2019 ). Photo : LEAD
LEAD ’ s budget of approximately $ 20 million is funded through DEQ ‘ s water , air and land programs with some additional funding from service agreements with other state agencies .
Lori Pillsbury began her academic career as a business major at the University of Tampa . However , she quickly realized that a business degree was not for her . Her roommate was a biology major , and she decided to try out that field . Biology proved to be a better fit than business , and she graduated with a dual BS in biology and marketing with a minor in chemistry . Her first job was as a technical sales representative for a hazardous waste incinerator . What the position lacked in glamor it provided in training on the hazards of various chemicals , information that would be prove valuable later in Pillsbury ’ s career .
After five years working for the hazardous waste incinerator , Pillsbury returned to graduate school at the University of South Florida and earned a master ’ s in chemical oceanography . The degree allowed her to combine her interest in chemistry with a passion for protecting the ocean , which had always been central to her life as a Floridian .
After graduate school , Florida ’ s Department of Environmental Protection hired Pillsbury as an environmental specialist in water resource assessment . Then in 2008 , she moved across the country to take a similar position in Oregon working in water quality monitoring at LEAD . She moved up to become the manager of the Resource Assessment and Technical Support Section in early 2016 and then to the administrator ’ s position late in 2019 .
LEAD ’ s diverse staff of 83 includes chemists , biologists , field staff , administrative specialists and data analysts as well as nearly 40 field staff who conduct air and water monitoring . Pillsbury aims to establish an internship program with a local university and to expand LEAD ’ s external relationships more broadly . As of now , LEAD staff may participate in position rotations and mentorships offered through the DEQ .
30 LAB MATTERS Fall / Winter 2021