Bittersweet Endings…

I would like to begin this final blog entry by thanking everyone involved in my graduate schooling-career and everyone at the EPCHC. The support and guidance has provided me with the tools needed for success, and brought me to where I am today. Thank you!!

The featured image is a Deionized (DI) Water system from the 1980’s which is still in use today for field blanks. This method is the most sensitive form of pure water for sample collection.

Due to my 2+years of experience working in environmental testing laboratories, I have been given the task to make standards for Total Phosphorus and TKN analyses throughout my internship. These standards are made with a first and second source of quality control (QC) solutions. The QC is an important part of each analysis and determines the validity of the analysis, since the QCs have a specific known range for their results.

IMG_2221.JPG

The image is my bench-space where I made the standards (in the smaller beakers) using the first and second source solutions – which are usually bought externally. I used the volumetric glass to measure out each solution and diluted them into 100nL of DI water – type 1 (taken from the laboratory sink, treated with UV).

Working in a laboratory setting is my passion, especially with environmental samples! It brings a sense of purpose, that the work I contribute is helping the environment and protecting our common resource. Everyone at the EPCHC is extremely warm and friendly and though I’ve spent only the past two months there, I feel like an adopted relative into their wonderful family. Their work and dedication has made the Tampa Bay estuary a role-model for the nation, as our Tampa Bay has completely recovered our seagrass populations to levels before the industrialism impact of the 1950s- late 1980s. Our story of success brings hope and guidance of sustainability to all sensitive estuary ecosystems shared with our fellow human beings.

Nutrients, a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life.

Nutrients are an essential component for life. Though, sometimes nutrient loading (an excess of nutrients within an ecosystem in a period of time) occurs due to animal fecal excrements, fertilizer runoff, and other anthropogenic factors. An increase in nutrients are harmful and toxic to our ecosystems. When soil and water cycles are not able to keep-up and maintain the natural filtration of nutrients, it can be detrimental to all living organisms in the area (including humans).

The EPCHC routinely collects samples around the Tampa Bay to ensure the levels of nutrients are within appropriate levels. When the samples are brought in, they are acidified in order to preserve the nutrient contents. As seen in the images, about 5-10mL of sample are filtered through a small circular attachment on the syringe. They are placed into the corresponding glass tube and covered with parafilm to place into storage until the analyst is ready to run the samples.

The acidity (pH) must be around 1.6-1.9pH in order to run the analysis accurately on the machine. Before filtration, each sample must be tested for the pH levels and if they are out of range (usually higher than 2.0pH), then one drop of hydrochloric acid is added to the sample, shaken, and the pH is tested again. Usually, one drop does the trick to bring the pH back down to 1.9pH, which is the ideal level.

Laboratory analysis of our environment is crucial to quantifying the sustainability of our ecosystems. This scientific approach provides quantified evidence on the levels of our ecosystem’s health. If the levels are out of range within specific analyses, then the area where the sample was retrieved is targeted to be recovered. Thus, providing guidance where our ecosystems need assistance to ensure the sustainability of our environments.

Welcome to the laboratory!

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.