At the beginning of April 2016 I began my internship with the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPC) in their water chemistry laboratory. The staff there is extremely welcoming and down to earth. As any newbie enters into any lab, the paperwork must be accomplished before anything else. I was given a tour of the facility and all of the departments that make up the EPC. Due to my previous laboratory experience (2+ years) in water quality, they informed me that I was the most experienced and qualified intern they’ve seen in years. Also, this meant that I was able to operate laboratory procedure portions on my own, such as, creating standards, filtering samples, and preparing reagents.
The program also supports interns visiting and shadowing other departments to see how the entire operation unfolds. Part of my internship project focuses on nutrient runoff and loading into the Tampa Bay, so I will go into the field, at least once to observe how samples are collected and how they assess on-site issues. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and EPC were already collaborating on nutrient management and runoff prevention, though now I believe the U.S.E.P.A. is now involved which makes my interaction (as an intern) more of a sensitive matter.
However, in the laboratory, I am learning new things every day and loving every moment! The lab already sets up my nutrient filtration station for me to go ahead and begin on my own. I filter the samples and then place parafilm over the tops of the samples that are ready to be analyzed by the machine, but stored in the fridge until needed.
I am learning how to operate the Lachat Machine which analyzes Total Phosphorous (TP), Ortho-phosphates, and Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) as seen in the image above. I have digested samples, blanks, and standards in the hood (at 365 degrees Celcius), and each digested sample (20mL) goes into another tube to have at least 2mL pass through analysis. I prepared the reagents and standards for the method and all have passed. In order to have a passing analysis, there must be 50% passing on the matrix spikes and relative duplicates.
This laboratory is one of the best environments, I’ve ever had the pleasure & opportunity to participate and experience. I look forward to acquiring more knowledge about the lab and about the Tampa Bay, a place I moved to when I was little, my home, and a place I cherish.