Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Announcing TOC Certification at WETLAB

WETLAB is pleased to announce a new certification.  We have expanded our testing abilities, and are now certified in Nevada to analyze Total Organic Carbon (TOC) by SM5310C.  Total Organic Carbon (TOC) is a measurement of organic or carbon-based contaminants in water that come from a variety of sources.  SM 5310C uses a UV-Persulfate TOC analyzer to measure total organic carbon in drinking water, surface water, ground water, and waste water.

At WETLAB, we are constantly trying new ideas, methods, and analyses to better serve our clients.  Contact us at (775) 355-0202 to find out how our new, in-house TOC analysis can help you get the environmental testing results you need.

Organic compounds are present in both indoor and outdoor environments, as they are necessary ingredients of products and materials we use every day.  Semi Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOC) are a subgroup of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that have a higher molecular weight and boiling point (240-260 C to 380-400 C) and are present in everyday items like pesticides and fire retardants.

SVOCs are analyzed by sample extraction and the extract is analyzed by Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).  The reported analytics can be separated into three groups (acids, bases, and neutrals) and are sometimes referred to as Base/Neutrals and Acids. WETLAB is currently in method development to perform the analysis of municipal and industrial wastewater by EPA 265 and solid waste, soils, and waste samples by EPA 8270.

At WETLAB, we are constantly trying new ideas, methods, and analyses to better serve our clients.  Contact us at (775) 355-0202 to find out how our new, in-house SVOC analysis can help you get the environmental testing results you need.

In our blog posts Lessons From the Lab we answer frequently asked questions from clients.  Find all installments of Lessons From the Lab here

What is a Reporting Limit?

A Reporting Limit (RL) is defined as the smallest concentration of a chemical that can be reported by a laboratory. If a laboratory is unable to detect a chemical in a sample, it does not necessarily mean that the chemical is absent from the sample altogether. It could be that the chemical concentration in the sample is below the sensitivity of the testing instrument. Concentrations below the RL are reported as not detectable at the RL or “less than” the RL. The RL value is often defined be each specific laboratory, so it is not uncommon to come across different RL’s when testing the same compound. RL’s act as safety protocols that allow laboratories to efficiently communicate the different variables correlated with testing and analyzing samples from a wide variety of sources and factors. It is important to identify the limit of concern that the client has when testing their sample to ensure that the RL is less than the regulatory limit. That enables a laboratory to identify whether a concentration of the chemical in question is above the regulatory limit of concern.

Lithium Brine Testing- Methods for Analysis

In part one of this two part series, we provided an overview of WETLAB’s industry leading practices for Lithium Brine Testing. In part two, we will explore the strengths and limitations associated with each of the four testing methods, including ICP-OES- the preferred method of brine characterization.

WETLAB is an industry leader for lithium brine testing, and has excelled at characterization using ICP-OES. The four main methods of lithium brine testing each have its own strengths and limitations, which we explore below.

FAAS (Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy) involves a nebulized sample being passed through an acetylene flame and the light absorbance of a specific wavelength is then measured. Some of the potential limitations involved with FAAS characterization include low sensitivity, relatively low ionization temperature (3000°C), and only one analyte can be run at a time. Phosphates and Sulfates can also form flame-stable metal salts, which can complicate analysis.

GFAAS (Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy) involves the sample being heated in a graphite tube, and then atomized light is passed through the tube and measured at a specific wavelength. Due to heating programming and specificity, GFAAS analyses are typically done for one element at a time. GFAAS also has long sampling times, low temperature, and a limited dynamic range.

ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry) involves a nebulized sample being passed through high temperature plasma to ionize atoms, which are then isolated by their mass/charge ratio and detected directly. ICP-MS can be an excellent option for some clients, but some of the limitations for lithium analysis are that lithium is very light and can be excluded by heavier atoms, and analysis is typically limited to <0.2% dissolved solids, which means that it is not great for brines. Equipment and technician training costs are also very high with this method.

ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectroscopy) involves a nebulized sample being passed through high temperature plasma to ionize atoms, which release light at specific wavelengths. This is the preferred analytical technique for most metals in any matrix, and all metals in a complex matrix such as brine solutions. ICP-OES can handle a high amount of dissolved solids, has little chemical interference, and has robust sample introduction with high-energy plasma (~10,000°C) plasma. ICP-OES can also perform multi-element analysis, easily determining concentrations of other metals (K, Mg, B, etc).   Although ICP-OES is the preferred technique, it does have some limitations. These include moderate detection limits, typically lower than FAAS but higher than GFAAS and ICP-MS in a clean matrix. Complex matrices (such as brine) can often require dilutions from the other methods that may raise the overall Detection Limit. Also, spectral Interferences are common, but can typically be easily compensated to eliminate.

 

To determine how WETLAB can help you get the data you need with our industry leading practices, call WETLAB at (775) 355-0202 and speak with someone from our highly skilled customer and sample management team.

 

Matt Weikel, Inorganic Laboratory Manager, presented at a training hosted by Nevada Water Resources Association (NWRA) regarding WETLAB’s industry leading lithium brine testing methods. In this two part series, we will provide an overview of this presentation, and explore various methods of analysis.

Lithium Brine extraction and processing is gaining traction in Nevada. Lithium mining uses evaporation ponds, which produces a brine that lithium is then extracted from. With lithium brine gaining popularity, lithium brine testing has become an interesting and ever-changing topic.

WETLAB has always sought to develop products and practices that are in our clients’ best interest, which is why we have perfected the ideal method of lithium brine testing to meet various client needs.   Lithium brine can be characterized on four different pieces of equipment, including:

  1. FAAS (Flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy)
  2. GFAAS (Graphite Furnace AAS)
  3. ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry)
  4. ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectroscopy)

WETLAB continues to excel at ICP-OES characterization, which is the preferred method of analysis for lithium brines.  Each of these methods has its own strengths and limitations, and is coupled with a digestion method to place the metals into solution. WETLAB commonly uses a two-acid digestion, HNO3 + HCl, which include EPA methods 200.2, 3010, and 3050. After the sample is digested, it is ready for analysis.  WETLAB commonly recommends using ICP-OES analysis, as it works best for the characteristics of brine, and obtaining other data metrics from the sample.

When you choose WETLAB for your lithium brine testing and characterization needs, you get a lot of benefits.   WETLAB prioritizes customer service and accurate analysis, and we’re always here to help you get what you want.   We ensure precise analysis through a robust QA/QC program coupled with several measures of internal data and accuracy checks.

Part two of this series, WETLAB Lithium Brine Testing, we will explore the strengths and limitations associated with each of the above testing methods, and determine why using WETLAB for ICP-OES analysis is ideal.

WETLAB is an analytical facility, so our area of expertise lies in our ability to achieve accurate results with relatively low reporting limits for difficult matrices such as brine solutions. In the past year, WETLAB has seen an increase in the submission of brine solutions for lithium analysis. WETLAB partners with consulting firms, soils, and geochemistry laboratories to provide a complete and precise set of data, with each team contributing from their strengths. Through analysis we’ve gained valuable knowledge and experience and have developed best practices to best analyze this difficult matrix.

As far as analytical difficulties with this matrix, there are several:

  • Li is a very light element. This precludes it from some testing methods outright (such as XRF/XRD).
  • When Li is in a matrix with a large number of heavier elements, it tends to be pushed around and selectively excluded due to its low mass. This provides challenges when using Mass Spectrometry.
  • A brine matrix also has the potential for much greater interferences regardless of method used.
Li Brine Testing

Lab Testing via Ion Chromatography

At WETLAB, we have handled many Li Brine solutions and extracts, which has given us a chance to gain experience and fine tune our methodologies to meet our clients’ needs. By using different phase-testing and isolation techniques, we are able to provide a good overall picture of the complete sample in situ. We have often tested the solid, aqueous, and slurry components individually from single samples to provide a fuller understanding of the mineralogy present.

Our low reporting limits allow us to complete the analytical process with a smaller initial sample size which saves time and cost when it comes to extractions and shipping. We are also able to do larger dilutions to eliminate or reduce interferences while further reducing native sample consumption.

We have the use of a full laboratory at our disposal, with staff experienced with difficult matrices and samples with high potential for interference. This allows us to provide other analytes with good accuracy and relatively low reporting limits. The complete profile can allow field specialists to determine the appropriate steps to drive their operation with less guess-work. For instance, we were able to provide quick and meaningful results for Iron and Phosphate for a client who suspected their Lithium was in a Lithium Ferrous Phosphate.

We are always happy to field any analytical-related questions at any time.

Our ongoing series Life of a Sample explores what happens behind the scenes at WETLAB.  If you missed part one, check it out here!

The next step for a sample at WETLAB is sample preparation.  This process takes one day, and involves several different processes and people.  During the first step, all samples undergo the same log-in and review procedure, and sample prep is where the tests begin to diverge dependent on which analyses are required.  Some samples, including many soil tests, require the compositing of several different samples into one representative batch.  For many tests, different filtered and unfiltered aliquots are needed; these pieces are split up into different bottles and preserved as needed.  Once properly split, the samples are released to the lab.

Before the samples reach the lab, laboratory scientists clean and prep the necessary equipment, and lab technicians prepare batches of samples based on the tests logged in during step one.  Some tests are ready to preform immediately, and those move on to step three.  For others, extractions are needed.  This includes TCLP (toxic characteristic leaching procedure), cyanide extraction, MWMP (meteoric water mobility procedure), and humidity cells.   Some of these extractions take more than one day, like humidity cells, which can continue for a few months up to several years.  Ensuring proper preparations are preformed allows the rest of the analysis to run smoothly.  After the filtering and extractions are completed, it’s time for step three: distillation and digestion.

A portion of the humidity cells currently being processed in the geochemistry lab.

A portion of the humidity cells currently being processed in the geochemistry lab.

 

MWMP extractions.

MWMP extractions.

At WETLAB, we are often approached by members of the community who are interested in having one of talented scientists come talk to students about chemistry.  We try to oblige as much as we can, and this year, we were able to do two completely different presentations for different classes.

One of the thank you letters sent in by the students.

One of the thank you letters sent in by the students.

First up was Andy Smith, our esteemed Quality Assurance Manager, who performed four “chemistry magic” experiments for 2-5 year old students at the Goddard School.  The first experiment was a re-appearing ink sign.  The ink was phenolphthalein indicator on paper, and once the paper was sprayed with Windex (making it basic) the message “Chemistry Magic” appeared.  Next, he created a blueberry Kool-Aid drink that, due to an oxidation- reduction reaction, would turn from blue to colorless.  With a quick shake of the bottle, it would return to blue for a few minutes before the reaction completed again. Third, he changed the color of a Bunsen burner flame to blue (with copper sulfate), orange (with sodium chloride), green (barium chloride), and  brilliant red (with lithium sulfate).  Last, Andy crushed aluminum cans by boiling a small amount of water in them to create steam.  Once the steaming can is turned over in ice water, the instant cooling causes the cans to crush themselves!

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Andy Smith helps to inspire some future scientists.

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Andy shows Chemistry Magic!

The next was Ellen Messinger-Patton, Kat Langford, and Andrew Tobey, who showed a presentation on water purity to sixth graders.  In order to show that tap water is just as safe to drink as bottled water, the kids compared and contrasted three samples, including bottled water, tap water, and an untreated sample from the Truckee River.  They used odor, color, pH, metals concentration, and turbidity to determine which water sample was the cleanest.  At the end of the hour, bottled water and tap water were a tie, and many of the kids agreed to try to drink tap water now.  The WETLAB presenters also spent a small amount of time relaying the importance of conservation, and what our hydrologic system looks like in the Truckee Meadows.

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Ellen Messinger-Patton and Kat Langford begin water purity demonstration.

At WETLAB, we think that science education is incredibly important.  We are happy to foster the next generation of scientists, and show them that science is not only useful, but also really fun.

Effluent water could soon become part of your normal drinking water in Northern Nevada.  According to KTVN, reclaimed water is around 30% cheaper than potable water, but the problem is that waste water is not drinkable yet. Yet is the key word here, because regulations that define how much the water will need to be treated are working their way through the Nevada state legislature, and lawmakers are hoping to see them adopted by the 2017 session.

As everyone knows, Northern Nevada is suffering a severe drought.  Having another way to reuse water will have a great, positive environmental impact on our already low waterways.  Effluent water is already being used in some ways, mostly to irrigate parks and golf courses, but more could be put back into eventual use by the proposed measure.  The process involves injecting semi-treated water directly into the ground, so that it will later make its way back into our pipes.  This will ease the strain that is currently put on the Truckee River, which will in turn help with our ecosystem.

Effluent water is defined as waste-water, whether treated or not, that flows out from an industrial treatment plant or sewer.  Secondary effluent is that same water that has been treated, but not to the point of purity.  Obviously, the main difference between potable and effluent water is the cleanliness of the water, and its fitness for human consumption.

WETLAB preforms several tests on effluent water for many different clients, including public and private companies.  Some of these tests are Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), which tests how much oxygen demand the effluent water has, and Total Suspended Solids (TSS), which tests the amount of suspended solids within an aqueous sample.  Several other tests are often performed in tandem on effluent water samples, including Total Nitrogen, Nitrate + Nitrite, Ammonia, Total Phosphorous, and Fecal Coliform.  These tests all provide a detailed profile of what exactly is contained in an effluent sample, and allow proprietors to know how to best treat their water.

Singapore and Texas have already implemented effluent-to-drinking-water purification systems, with positive results.  To read more about this program in Nevada, and to see an interesting news report on it, click here.

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Earlier this winter, we took a look at a promising beginning to the winter’s snowpack and corresponding water storage after big December storms.

Our January WETLAB blog reported end-of-December totals of 112 percent water content in the Sierra Snowpack that feeds the Truckee River and the Reno-Northern Nevada area downstream. At the time, that put us at 53 percent of the year’s total.

Fast forward to the end of February, and the picture is a little different – because the water is about the same. Yes, the months of January and February were the driest ever recorded for the Northern Sierra since modern records were first kept in 1920, according to the San Jose Mercury News, putting us at only 66 percent of normal to date.

Snowfall, stored in the Sierra to melt throughout the spring and summer as one of the major water sources for both Nevada and California, has been blocked by a ridge of high pressure off the West Coast for the last two months, driving storms up into Canada, and dropping them into the Midwest.

And accordingly, water officials are tightening their belts. The Walker River Irrigation District said farmers might receive about half of what they received last year, even though last year was also a below average year for water in the Sierra snowpack, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

That – despite this year’s snowpack holding more water than last year – is due to drawn-down reservoir levels, according to Federal Watermaster Jim Shaw.

“I hate to bear crappy news, but being an old farmer, it doesn’t look very good,” Shaw said in the RGJ article. “If it’s any consolation, it’s this way clear across the U.S., from the Mississippi River west.”

While the April 1 deadline for measuring Sierra snowpack and water stored therein is quickly approaching, some local forecasters aren’t quite ready to write this winter off.

Snow Forecaster Bryan Allegretto of opensnow.com writes that, depending on which forecasting model you look at, there’s still a chance at feet of snow before the month of March is up.

The bottom line – if you’re an optimist, it’s not over until its over, but if you’re not, we’re unlikely to make up for the ground lost in January and February.