Environmental Laboratory Section Information
Training and Certified Quality Auditors – ELS staff received over 326 hours of training on quality and operations management. The outcome from this training was superior service for customers and improvements to internal laboratory performance. Many staff members made the additional effort to take the Quality Auditor and Quality Manager Certification Examinations. These examinations are given by the American Society for Quality. The ELS now has 11 nationally Certified Quality Auditors and two Certified Quality Managers among its staff. These individuals are helping the laboratory improve operations based on sound quality principles.
Biology – Five staff members have been trained to manage high health risk environmental and laboratory events that can occur when marine or fresh water organisms such as Pfiesteria, Chattonella, or other potentially toxic organism flourishes. This allowed the ELS, in cooperation with Delaware’s Division of Fish and Wildlife and Division of Public Health, to monitor Delaware’s state water bodies and to assess environmental risks. Partly funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the effort needed to be curtailed given that the USEPA lost its source of funds and was forced to withdraw grant support for Delaware.
Operational Improvements – In the Bacteriology/Microbiology Laboratory, extensive improvements have been made to standard operating procedures and quality assurance protocols to assure compliance with the Federal Drug Administration’s Certified Microbiology Program. As a laboratory certified by the Federal Drug Administration, the ELS performs shellfish and shellfish water testing to enable public health safety determinations to be made regarding the consumption of shellfish harvested from Delaware waters. The data supports the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
Environmental Monitoring and Assessments
Pfiesteria and Chattonella Monitoring – The ELS has monitored the toxic microbe, Pfiesteria, since 1998. In 2000, the Pfiesteria Monitoring project continued investigating Pfiesteria’s geographical location, densities, and relationships with water quality in the Inland Bays. As in 1998 and 1999, organisms with visual characteristics of Pfiesteria were found in the upper tributaries of Indian River Bay, Rehoboth Bay, and Little Assawoman Bay. Further laboratory DNA analyses determined the identity of organisms to be Pfiesteria shumwaye and Pfiesteria piscicida.
Chattonella, another type of microbe that is known to produce toxin, was found later in the summer in tributaries of northern Rehoboth Bay. The organism had no apparent effects on aquatic life. The results from the testing of shellfish tissue that accumulates the toxins produced by Chattonella did not indicate the presence of toxins. Additional studies are pending the availability of federal or state funds.
Relationship Between Dissolved Oxygen and Juvenile Fishes Study – The relationship between the distribution and abundance of juvenile fishes and various dissolved oxygen levels were studied in two tributaries of Indian River Bay, Pepper Creek and Indian River. The findings of this study will enhance understanding of the specific low dissolved oxygen conditions that lead to fish kills, that impact fish health and growth, and cause abandonment of nursery areas. This improved understanding will help guide management efforts to maintain nursery habitat and protect fish populations in estuarine waters.
Fish Health Monitoring and Research Study – The primary objective of the study is to identify the organisms that cause the sores on estuarine fish that have in some instances been attributed to toxic Pfiesteria. Juvenile Atlantic menhaden were collected from the tidal tributaries of the Inland Bays and analyzed for an immune system condition and the presence of sporozoan, fungi, tissue reactions to parasites, and cellular alterations. Comparisons were made between the condition of apparently healthy individuals with no sores on the skin and unhealthy individuals, as indicated by the presence of sores. This study was a joint effort with the USDA’s Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory.
Artificial Reef Assessment – The goal of this project was to identify the type and number of marine invertebrates (small animals) which use and benefit from artificial reefs in the Delaware Bay. The information that was collected helped the Division of Fish and Wildlife improve the management of artificial reefs and create additional marine habitat and new fishing sites.
New Castle County Streams – This study used living organisms in their natural habitat to gauge water quality conditions. A benefit of this effort is that it assists in determining the extent of water pollution control provided by stormwater basins.
Study of Landfill and Industrial Site Impacts – Stream habitats and water quality studies continue, as a service to the Division of Air and Waste Management. In this study, innovative assessment methods and living organisms were used as a rapid and reliable indicator of water pollution and stream health.
The Environmental Laboratory Section continues to establish partnerships with outside organizations. The Lab's partners, through the Division of Water Resources, include:
City of Wilmington – The ELS provided services to Wilmington by sampling the Christina River and Brandywine Creek Combined Sewer Overflows for enterococcus bacteria. The staff also worked with the State of Pennsylvania, U.S. Geological Survey, and University of Delaware to study rainfall effects in the Christina River Basin.
Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) – The ELS routinely monitored 18-22 water quality stations that extend from Slaughter Beach, DE to Florence, NJ encompassing 148 river miles of Delaware River and Delaware Bay. One special study focused on the re-suspension of fecal coliform during rain events from the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) in Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ.
Watershed Assessment – The ELS conducted monitoring and sampling of surface waters through out the State of Delaware. The Christina River, Appoquinimink River, Murderkill River, and Nanticoke River as well as the Inland Bays were sampled and the data used as input to mathematical model that were used to calculate the Total Maximum Daily Loads for each of these water bodies.
Delaware Emergency Management Agency – Staff from the Division of Water Resources and the Environmental Lab worked with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency’s Accident Assessment Advisory Group. These professionals have compiled an outstanding record of performance and have been highly acclaimed by state and federal officials.
Consulting Firms – The ELS also worked with a consulting firm to assess the thermal and chemical impacts of heated effluent water on natural waters.
Scientific outreach (Education)
The ELS demonstrates its commitment to science education through public outreach efforts, classroom career presentations, and laboratory tours as well as providing internship opportunities to teachers and students. The ELS also participates in SEEDelaware. This program provides summertime work experience for high school students. Students work with a mentor who guides them and provides counsel on issues that are common in the workplace yet uncommon outside of work.