Lab Matters Spring 2024 | Page 18


Vermont LRN-C at the Ready

By Lacey Tefft , public health laboratory unit coordinator , Vermont Department of Health Public Health Laboratory
The Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats ( LRN-C ) maintains readiness for chemical threat public health emergencies . However , in recent years , participating in the LRN-C has proven to be a great asset for other public health emergencies , including responding to extreme weather events .
In July 2023 , Vermont experienced historic flooding when a two-day storm dropped significant rainfall across the entire state . This storm was most severe across the spine of the Green Mountains with the highest rainfall measuring 9.2 ” in Calais . It had already been a rainy summer , and with the ground already saturated , this storm caused severe flash flooding and mudslides . Several towns were isolated as rising water caused over 100 road closures throughout the state . Communities experienced unimaginable devastation as floodwaters and contaminated sludge destroyed municipalities , storefronts and homes .
Assessing the Damage
When the rain subsided , the focus shifted towards recovery , and ensuring people had access to safe drinking water was a priority . Municipal water suppliers affected by the flood had to test for coliform bacteria / Escherichia coli , nitrates / nitrites , volatile organic compounds ( VOCs ), semi-volatile organic compounds ( SVOCs ) and heavy metals to lift their boil water notices . But this posed an issue because not every Vermonter gets their water from municipalities . In fact , on average , one in four households get their water from private wells or springs in Vermont . On July 14 , the governor offered free drinking water test kits to those affected by the flood and instructed the public to call the Vermont Department of Health Public Health Laboratory .
The village of Jeffersonville , VT , under water after the July 2023 floods . Photo : AJ Murray Photography
Administrative support was needed to take phone calls and return messages . Test kits needed to be assembled , so the laboratory ’ s break room transformed into a kit building hub as staff formed assembly lines to increase efficiency . Approximately 1,700 drinking water test kits were distributed to multi-agency resource centers ( MARCs ) in six business days . MARCs were essential in quickly getting water testing kits out to the public and drinking water needed to be tested quickly . In addition to helping to assemble drinking water kits , LRN-C
chemists helped with metals , VOCs and SVOCs testing , which required working outside normal business hours as public water suppliers needed results as soon as possible .
The Vermont Department of Health is committed to serving the community . While the July 2023 flood response was not clinical in nature , LRN-C chemists utilized their specialized skillsets to support the laboratory response . They applied technical abilities to drinking water testing or simply offered administrative assistance to other programs in need . With extreme weather events on the rise , laboratory emergency response is increasingly important . Leveraging LRN-C staff and instrumentation broadens the capabilities of a laboratory during an emergency response , ensuring that the LRN-C is always at the ready . g
Answering the Call
It was all hands on-deck at the laboratory — including our LRN-C chemists . The laboratory received an unprecedented number of phone calls after the governor ’ s announcement , and a call center was quickly established .
Created by the National Weather Service Forecast Office , Burlington , VT .
16 LAB MATTERS Spring 2024
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