Thursday, December 11, 2008

What does a water quality laboratory look like?

Some time back, I have a query asking about the facilities I use for my water quality monitoring activities. I guess it is time to have a short preview.

This is the Environmental Technology Lab in SP where most of the lab work is done. Unlike the universities or research institutions, we do not have the luxury of being assigned a research lab so the photo below shows the lab as it is most often used - normal day-to-day teaching of practical skills to our full-time students. We do our microbiological work in another lab while hazardous work is done in a fume hood in yet another lab.

The next query that came in - what are your most sophisticated (implying expensive)instruments? Here they and they do sound a mouthful: (L) inductively coupled plasma - optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES); (R) gas chromatograph - mass spectrometer (GC-MS). The ICP-OES is capable of detecting minute quantities of heavy metals e.g. lead, chromium in water while the GC-MS can identify and quantify minute quantities of organic compounds e.g. pesticides, even melamine.

In reality, the routine water quality tests are less elaborate ones which function as our workhorses e.g. pH, DO, COD, coliform. They can give a reasonable overview of the water quality in a short time, allowing any unusual occurences to be flagged out. Because of the hassle and costs, the high-end equipment are used for advanced monitoring when special pollutants are suspected to be present.

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