Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Contaminant: Lead

Lead is a commonly tested for contaminant in drinking water, and public water systems must test for it on a prescribed, regular basis.  WETLAB routinely tests for trace lead amounts in drinking water for many clients using two main methods- EPA 200.7 and 200.8.  These methods use ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma) machines, which can detect very small amounts of trace metals in water.  But why is testing for lead important?  What are the potential health risks associated with lead, and when do we care about it?

Lead is most commonly introduced into drinking water from service pipes and solder containing lead that corrode.  The corrosion is often due to acidity in the water, which causes the lead to leach out of the pipe and into the water.  Lead can also be introduced into drinking water through erosion of natural deposits. The EPA has identified the maximum allowable content of lead in water to be 0 mg/L, and an “action level” as 0.015 mg/L.

Lead in children, even in very low levels, has been shown to cause erratic behavior, learning problems, and slowed growth.  Lead exposure is most dangerous to young children, infants, and fetuses.  For that reason, lead exposure is also a significant concern for pregnant women.  During pregnancy, lead amounts that have built up over a lifetime can leach out of the mothers bones and impact the growing fetus.  Lead can also be dangerous for adults, although typically in higher levels than in children.

To mitigate these potential health effects, it is imperative that lead levels are tested accurately and consistently. Public health agencies routinely monitor the results of these tests to ensure that action is taken before a crisis arises.

More information can be found on the Quick Reference Guide, published by the EPA.

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

It is important to know the differences for the client and the lab when the topic of compliance vs. non-compliance comes up. The simplest way to view it from a client perspective is that compliance data would be data that any type of regulator would review. It could be a state regulator or sometimes the EPA itself. Many times, compliance data will be sent directly to the state by WETLAB. In a more complex twist we have seen this past month NON-compliance data be subpoenaed to US District Court. This proves that even if the client indicates non-compliance we should be following all the normal rules as we do for compliance samples. All samples should certainly be collected properly as far as container and preservative types go and correct sample volume should be provided. From a lab perspective whether or not a sample is for compliance doesn’t really get discussed too often. It is simpler, and safer, to treat all samples the same. In rare occurrences, with lab and QA management oversight, protocols may be altered for non-compliance samples.

At WETLAB, we believe that good communication is a critical part of ensuring our clients receive good data.  Our QA manager and sales team presented on this topic in March at the Nevada Rural Water Association Conference in Reno, NV. Below is a small synopsis of this presentation. 

Good communication appears to be a simple goal, but can be difficult to achieve.  There are many players involved at every stage, and one small miscommunication can result in the end product not being what is needed.  The —ultimate goal is to produce legally defensible results that meet Data Quality objectives.

The many moving parts of good communication.

The many moving parts of good communication.

It is imperative that clients and the lab communicate clearly- WETLAB strives to ensure that all of our clients understand what data they need to satisfy regulatory requirements. The regulatory landscape concerning water is ever-changing, and can be confusing.  At WETLAB, we stay up to date with the latest changes so that we can help our clients get the results they need.  Outside of the lab, we talk to our clients and their regulators to determine needs.  Inside of the lab, we discuss projects clearly throughout all departments.

Clear communication has many moving pieces inside the lab.

Clear communication has many moving pieces inside the lab.

The critical point of communication occurs between the client and the lab.  Providing WETLAB with the appropriate documents helps to clearly show objectives. These documents include: a detailed Client Information Sheet, a Sampling Analysis Plan, the Scope of Work, and the Chain of Custody.  Having an accurate and clear Chain of Custody is imperative to retain legal defensibility of sample results.  Our staff reviews all Chain of Custody forms to make sure they are clear and fully completed.

If all participants communicate as clearly as possible, the goal of regulatory compliance can be achieved.  Contact WETLAB to see how we can help you achieve your goals.

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 Trace Metals Analysis?

Trace Metals analysis may be performed on a variety of aqueous matrices. Depending on the objective of your sampling, WETLAB can perform total recoverable or dissolved metals analysis. For total recoverable or total metals analysis, the sample must be preserved with the addition of nitric acid (HNO3) to lower the pH of the sample to <2. Dissolved metals require an additional step prior to the addition of HNO3. Samples for dissolved metals must be filtered using a 0.45 µm filter, after the sample has passed through the filter, the sample must be preserved with HNO3. In SW-846, the EPA recommends that samples are field filtered. If field filtration is not possible, clients may submit an unpreserved sample to WETLAB and we can filter the sample using 0.45 µm filters and preserve with HNO3. If field preservation is not possible, the EPA recommends in EPA 200.2, “Preservation may be done at the time of sample collection, however, to avoid the hazards of strong acids in the field, transport restrictions, and possible contamination it is recommended that the samples be returned to the laboratory within two weeks of collection and acid preserved upon receipt in the laboratory. Following acidification, the sample should be mixed and held for 16 hours.” Aqueous samples that have been properly preserved for trace metals analysis by EPA 200.7 and/or EPA 200.8 may be held and analyzed up to six months after collection date.

 

 

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.

WETLAB is a certified lab for drinking water testing in Nevada, with reciprocity for testing in California, Wyoming, and Idaho.  This means that when you send drinking water samples to WETLAB, we guarantee thorough, high-quality data that complies with regulatory standards.  We ensure that your sample is analyzed with up-to-date methods, performed with the precision and attention to detail that you require.  We analyze drinking water for regulated public water systems of all sizes and for private domestic wells.

Private domestic well owners face a unique set of circumstances not often realized by many people who utilize a community water system.  Well owners are responsible for ensuring their own water quality, which means regular water testing.  Your water can contain microscopic particulates and micro-organisms that you would be unable to detect with your naked eye.  The Environmental Protection Agency recommends testing your well regularly for several contaminants, including total coliform, pH, corrosion, nitrates, and metals.  If you experience any changes in water quality, such as rapid corrosion of pipes, undesirable tastes or smells, or increased scaly build-up, you may be interested in testing your water quality.

If you are interested in testing your private domestic well, reference this helpful guide from the UNR Cooperative Extension.  This guide will help you determine what drinking water parameters you may be interested in testing for, and what the critical limits for some contaminants are.  After you test your water, you can use this tool to help interpret your results.  Our friendly staff at WETLAB will be happy to assist you with any other questions you might have.

WETLAB provides a uniquely client-oriented lab experience that will ensure you obtain the quality lab results you seek.  Contact WETLAB at (775) 355-0202 to determine how we can help you.

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

At this point in our sample’s life cycle, the sample has been received, prepped, distilled/ digested, and analyzed.  The next step is entering all the collected data so that it can be transmitted to clients.  During this step, all the raw data is double-checked for inaccuracies and to ensure that all quality control samples have been included.  All data that can’t be migrated digitally is hand-entered by lab technicians, which is then checked for input errors such as incorrect dates or mis-typed numbers.  Catching these small errors is critical for ensuring data is reported correctly and on time for our clients.  This step is typically completed by the end of the day the sample finishes analysis.  After data entry, our sample will reach its terminal stage- reporting.

One of our talented lab technicians working to ensure quality data.

One of our talented lab technicians working to ensure quality data.

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.

 

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

The next step for our samples life cycle is analysis, which takes around four days, depending on the method.  Analysis starts with batch prepping the samples and preparing the instrument.  All daily required instrument maintenance is also preformed during this step.  All reagents and standards are logged here, and will later be used to monitor for QA/QC and determine accuracy.  When the batches and machines are prepped, the samples are run through analysis.  During this time, all quality control samples are monitored to ensure that the machines are functioning properly and there are no problems with analysis.  If any issues or unexpected results appear, analysts will trouble shoot all instruments and samples.  Samples that do not meet acceptance criteria are then re-run.  Potential problems can arise when samples have complicated matrices, which can cause equipment malfunctions. Once our samples are done in the analysis stage, it’s on to data entry.

A few of WETLAB's state of the art analysis instruments.

A few of WETLAB’s state of the art analysis instruments.

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.