All About Allegheny : A County PHL Grows Bigger , Better
by Nancy Maddox , MPH , writer
Allegheny County , Pennsylvania , has been a land of farming , whiskey-making and mining . Owing to massive deposits of coal and iron ore , the county seat of Pittsburgh was once “ one of the most important steel producing areas in the world ,” according to Wikipedia , supplying the Union Army in the 1800s and churning out almost 100 million tons of steel to support Allied Forces during WWII .
While US Steel Corporation is still headquartered here , the 735 squaremile county of 2.3 million is now better known for its universities , hospitals , high-ranking sports teams ( think Steelers , Penguins and Pirates ) and cultural attractions , such as the Andy Warhol Museum , Pittsburgh Opera , National Aviary and Carnegie Museum of Natural History ( which houses one of the world ’ s best dinosaur collections ).
The county ’ s current business sector includes PNC Financial Services , GlaxoSmithKline , RAND Corporation , the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory and a slew of cyber defense , software engineering and robotics firms . In fact , with its robust economy , green building initiatives and leafy neighborhoods overlooking the “ three rivers ”— the Allegheny , Monongahela and Ohio — Metropolis magazine recently named Pittsburgh one of the “ most livable cities in the world .”
Robert Wadowsky , ScD , head of the Allegheny County Public Health Laboratory ( PHL ), notes another local attraction : “ We find our residents are the most friendly and down-to-earth people you would ever know .”
The PHL , part of the Allegheny County Health Department , works to assure that residents and visitors alike are safe from public health threats . Wadowsky said , “ Although we have this big city , Pittsburgh , surrounding it is a lot of outdoor space .” Both areas generate work for the laboratory , which tests roughly 600 wild animals per year for rabies , with about two dozen positives annually . On behalf of the county ’ s housing
Virology and BSL-3 supervisor Steve Gibbs and BSL-3 microbiologist Heather Skiba don PPEs before entering the BSL-3 suite
program , the laboratory tests urban and suburban public-access swimming pools for coliforms and heterotrophic plate counts . And , in Pittsburgh , it tests nursing home water , building cooling tower water and other suspect samples for Legionella species linked to Legionnaires ’ disease outbreaks .
Wadowsky has led the laboratory since shortly after relocation to an enlarged , modern facility , overseen the design of a new STD laboratory in a slightly expanded space , and steadily upgraded core assets , such as the laboratory information management system ( LIMS ) and key testing platforms .
In 2009 , the PHL moved to a new , 10,000-square-foot facility on Allegheny County ’ s Clack Campus in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh , about 40 blocks from city center .
The campus was once the site of the Allegheny arsenal , a pre-Civil War era munitions manufacturing and supply depot , and the oldest buildings in the area date to the early 1800s . The two-story laboratory structure — whose windowless design boosts security — features a red brick exterior with faux windows , reflecting the architectural style of the campus ’ s landmark buildings . The laboratory is equipped with a 700-square-foot BSL-3 suite and a diesel-fueled back-up generator that enables it to function off the electrical grid for weeks at a time , if necessary .
In addition to the main Lawrenceville facility , the PHL operates a STD lab in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh ( slated to move to a new , 1,035-squarefoot facility in November 2017 ) and two drug-testing labs : one in Pittsburgh and one in nearby McKeesport . The laboratory is gearing up to offer pointof-care blood lead testing in the health department ’ s Pittsburgh infectious disease clinic and Women , Infant and Children ( WIC ) program locations .
Wadowsky is a native son , who has spent his entire life in the City of Pittsburgh . After earning a BS in microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh ( Pitt ), he met his first mentor , Spyros Kominos , ScD , while interning at Pittsburgh ’ s Mercy Hospital . That was when Wadowsky , “ fell in love with the field [ of laboratory practice ] and decided I would someday become a laboratory director .” He returned to Pitt to secure MS and ScD degrees in infectious diseases and microbiology from the university ’ s Graduate School of Public Health , focusing his doctoral studies on Legionella pneumophila with his second mentor , Robert Yee , PhD . “ We discovered that the bacterium could grow and multiply in tap water ,” he said . “ It doesn ’ t require anything else .”
Then , said Wadowsky , “ I made a big move — across the street to the Children ’ s
LAB MATTERS Summer 2017
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