Lab Matters Fall Winter 2021 - Page 9

FEATURE disease prevalence , physical and chemical measures of weather and temperature , and have it all integrated into a single system so that we could look at it .”
Different Projects , Same Purpose
In Minnesota , the Environmental Laboratory Section of the state ’ s public health laboratory has been involved in a couple of pilot projects examining water quality . Minnesota has warmed one to three degrees Fahrenheit within the past 100 years , according to the US Environmental Protection Agency ( US EPA ). Floods are more frequent , and ice cover forms later and melts sooner on the state ’ s 12,000 lakes . In 2021 , the state is experiencing a significant drought despite a “ mega-rain ” event over 6-12 hours in July that dumped 6-10 inches of rain in some parts .
“ As a laboratory , we are aware that the seasons are changing ,” says Sara Vetter , PhD , assistant division director and CLIA laboratory director at the Minnesota Public Health Laboratory Division . “ For example , tick season starts a little earlier and goes a little longer . So when it comes to our ‘ normal surveillance ,’ we are noticing that we get more samples in over a longer period of time through the year .”
Typically , it is not possible for the laboratory professionals to analyze any patterns because samples are given a unique number — and a new number each year — and not identified by the water source ’ s location .
“ To get historical data from the lab ’ s point of view is difficult ,” says Jeff Brenner , laboratory supervisor at the Minnesota Public Health Laboratory Division . “ You sometimes get a feel that it seems like we ’ re having higher results , but it ’ s difficult to tell [ in the laboratory ] if it ’ s from the same location or if it ’ s a new location .”
However , a few years ago the environmental health laboratory professionals partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on a project examining the ability to reuse stormwater . In 2008 , the state passed the Land and Legacy Amendment , funded through a sales tax increase . As part of the clean water activities , the Amendment paid for a full-time chemist at the state public health department .
As part of a proof-of-concept pilot project , the Environmental Laboratory Section collected stormwater and determined whether it could be cleaned up enough to test for different compounds . They were successful , showing that the water could be examined to the extent that decisionmakers could decide whether certain stormwater collections were safe enough to be reused for things such as irrigating athletic fields without introducing chemical containments to the area .
“ It was just the idea of could we collect water ? Could we clean it up enough to analyze it with some level of accuracy and to identify these compounds and things ?” says Paul Moyer , MS , manager of Minnesota ’ s Environmental Laboratory Section . “ So , it was very interesting , and we ’ re waiting to see if there ’ s going to be some follow-up opportunities .”
In another partnership with the state ’ s pollution control agency , the laboratory tests the ratio of bromide and chloride in aquifers , and the ratio is used to determine the origin and time it took for a sample to pass through the soil to get to the aquifer , Brenner says .
The concern surrounded increasing patterns of drought followed by extreme rainstorms , which can cause water to flow faster into the aquifers , potentially taking more chemical compounds with it . However , one of the challenges of these types of projects is that the laboratory didn ’ t hear back about the overall results and data analysis .
“ We ’ ve tried to work with our partners a little bit better to have them come out and do presentations on our data ,” Brenner says . In one instance , the pollution control agency did do a presentation on the laboratory ’ s data showing the effect of sulfate on wild rice . The state has a 10 milligram per liter sulfate limit for wild rice waters . The pollution control agency was studying whether the regulation was stringent enough and if it was connected to wild rice dying off in the northern part of the state .
“ What they determined , through this multi-year study , was that it wasn ’ t actually the sulfate , but it really depended on the total organic carbon and iron concentrations also in the sediment ,” Brenner says .
If the iron concentrations were low and the organic carbon was high , the bacteria in the sediment would use sulfate for respiration . The sulfate would be converted to hydrogen sulfide , which was killing the wild rice . However , when iron concentrations were high and organic carbon was low , the bacteria would use iron and the rice would survive . In April 2021 , US EPA notified the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that 30 rivers and lakes had sulfate levels beyond what is allowed .
In some parts of the country , it is harmful algal blooms ( HABs ) infiltrating waterways and potentially endangering health . HABs can lead to temporary closures of recreational lakes , preventing swimming , boating and fishing . In Pennsylvania , HABs have increased as warmer water temperatures have mixed with agricultural and urban runoff , according to a climate change session at the 2021 APHL Annual Conference . HABs decrease the oxygen available to other organisms in the water , killing them . They can also be a danger to fish , pets and humans .
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ( DEP ) Bureau of Laboratories got involved by developing
Ixodes scapularis , commonly known as a deer tick , is a carrier for Lyme disease , babesiosis , anaplasmosis , Powassan virus disease , among others . Photo : Wikimedia Commons
Fall / Winter 2021 LAB MATTERS 7