National Water Quality Laboratory

Monday June 18, 2018

Analytical Services (AS)

Analytical Services (AS)

Analytical Services (AS) section of the National Water Quality Laboratory (NWQL) provides sample analysis carried out by chemists, physical scientists, aquatic biologists, and technicians. The AS section has broad environmental analytical capabilities to analyze over 800 inorganic and organic contaminants in surface water, groundwater, waste treatment influent and effluent, biosolids, suspended sediment, aquatic bed sediment, atmospheric precipitation and aquatic plant and animal tissues. Examples of analyte classes determined include trace elements, majors, nutrients, pesticides and their degradates, pharmaceuticals, steroid hormones, surfactants, anthropogenic waste indicators, explosives, fossil-fuel residues and emissions, chlorophyll, chlorinated solvents, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phenols, phthalates, and other chemicals used in industrial processes. Examples of physical properties include color, pH, specific conductance, radon in water, and turbidity. State-of-the-art techniques are used to make analytical determinations using approved and custom methods from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The NWQL also identifies and estimates the populations of aquatic invertebrates in samples collected from streams. The presence and number of these organisms provide insight into the health of the aquatic ecosystem and are thus important in our efforts to support the USGS Science Strategy. The NWQL receives an annual average of almost 40,000 samples and produces about 1.8 to 2.1 million results. The NWQL analyzes from 70 to 80 percent of all water-quality samples collected by the USGS Water Science Centers, which are located in every State, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Island territories.

These analytical results are used to discern the basic water chemistry and help USGS scientists understand the fate and transport of a wide variety of contaminants including nutrients, anthropogenic compounds and trace elements in the environment. USGS analytical results are used in determining the long-term effect of these compounds and elements in the environment. For example, the role of nutrients from excess fertilization of agricultural land in the U.S. in the hypoxia occurring in the Gulf of Mexico is mostly due to runoff of nutrients from excess fertilization of agricultural land in the US. Understanding of the distribution and occurrence of trace elements is critical to the determination of water quality to insure that our drinking water and municipal water supplies are safe. These trace level analytical results also provide information on the occurrence, quantities, and distribution of emergent contaminants such as pesticides, steroid hormones, pharmaceuticals and other classes of compounds that are key components of water quality and their potential impacts on human health and aquatic life.

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