Connecting the Dots: How Environmental Testing Impacts Citizens

Government Public Health and Private Environmental Laboratory Partnerships
Oral Presentation

Prepared by N. Gunsalus Jr
Kansas Dept of Health and Environment, 6810 SE Dwight Street, Topeka, KS, 66620, United States


Contact Information: [email protected]; 785.296.0801


ABSTRACT

The environmental testing industry is often seen as a data source, providing compliance or informational data with little direct impact to local citizens. Although environmental testing professionals and especially those at public health agencies know they are contributing to a healthy environment, there may still be a disconnect between their work and the impact to individuals and communities. In November of 2016, the staff at the Kansas state public health environmental laboratory was given the opportunity to understand how their work directly impacted their fellow citizens.

When a chemical manufacturing plant caught fire in the small Kansas town of Neodesha, it was not immediately clear that the incident would affect every citizen as well as other communities miles away. The runoff from the firefighting efforts drained into the local river just upstream of the municipal water intake that supplied the town’s water.

Kansas Health and Environmental Laboratories (KHEL) and a private laboratory were called upon to characterize the extent of river contamination and approve a raw water backup source for the town’s water system. The KHEL staff were willing to work throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to get water back to the Neodesha citizens who were celebrating the holiday with their families.

This presentation will examine this incident and others to demonstrate how the testing conducted by public and private environmental laboratories can have a direct impact on local communities and individuals. It will provide a timely reminder that the environmental laboratory scientists are a vital partner in this process and that laboratory work is more than a “black box” and has the potential to help protect a whole population and the environment.