Lab Matters Summer 2019 - Page 36

MEMBERSHIP Protecting Environmental Health and Resources in Oklahoma by Gynene Sullivan, MA, CAPM, manager, Communications Museum where the Alfred P. Murrah Building once stood. The laboratory was one of the first to reoccupy the area with the purchase and renovation of the old, Brutalist-style Bell Telephone Building. Oklahoma is a unique and varied state, home to 39 Native American tribes, diverse enterprises and a landscape marked by contrasts. A major producer of natural gas, oil and agricultural products, the state relies on an economic base of aviation (generates $11 billion annually), energy (third largest producer of natural gas and fifth largest producer of crude oil), telecommunications and, more recently, biotechnology. It also boasts 13 distinct ecological regions within its borders—more per square mile than any other state. With four separate mountain ranges—the Ouachitas, the Arbuckles, the Wichitas and the Ozarks—more than 500 named creeks and 200 dam-created lakes. This environmental diversity, coupled with frequent extreme weather events and heavy industry, makes environmental testing critical to the health of Oklahoma’s 3.9 million plus residents. Facility After separating from the Oklahoma State Department of Health in 1993, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, State Environmental Laboratory Services (SELS) began a complex series of phased construction and moves in 1998. Today it is located in the heart of Oklahoma City directly north of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and The 48,000 square-foot laboratory resides with DEQ central offices in what has become a bustling, vibrant downtown. Its BSL-2-rated facility occupies the ninth and tenth floors, and there are specialized areas in the basement for radiochemistry instrumentation, on the third floor for storage, and on the first floor for sample intake. For all its tragedy, the bombing of the Murrah building ushered in a renaissance in Oklahoma City and a new beginning for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Oklahoma City continues to grow and prosper with public and private partnerships dramatically transforming its face. Chris Armstrong, director of SELS, has been at the forefront of environmental public health in Oklahoma for over four decades. “It’s been gratifying to see the effects our programs have had on public health the environment in the state.” Director A lifelong Oklahoma resident, Armstrong received his bachelor’s in microbiology with a chemistry minor from Oklahoma State University. But he worked construction for over a decade before joining a local medical research foundation, performing tissue culture and working on animal immunotherapeutic protocols. “Extraction and digestion laboratories have very specialized mechanical needs, and I had a really good understanding of that when I first started,” Armstrong said. He loved research, but he soon found himself with a family of five, so he became a clinical microbiologist doing STD microscopy, cultures and serological tests. He made the jump to environmental science after participating in Oklahoma’s first waste load allocation study, and has served as a supervisor to both a clinical laboratory and environmental laboratory. Staff SELS has 57 full time employees. More than 90 percent of the staff have both undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry, biology or microbiology and have a minimum of 11 years of experience. Two accreditation program staff members plus four scientists also serve as laboratory accreditation assessors. “We’re currently three positions down, and our new budget makes it unlikely we will be able to refill vacancies this year.” Revenue SELS has a budget of $7.2 million, of which approximately 47% is fee revenue, 33% is state appropriation and 20% is federal grants. While fees for testing are fixed, Armstrong says, “We had the foresight to include a Consumer Price Index (CPI) clause into our rules,” so fees would have an automatic increase based on the CPI of the previous year. Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Laboratory Staff. Photo: SELS 34 LAB MATTERS Summer 2019 PublicHealthLabs @APHL