DENVER, Colo. -- The job of assessing the quality of the nation's water just got a little bit easier with the construction and occupancy of a new laboratory at the Denver Federal Center. Managed by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the new "Building 95" houses the National Water Quality Laboratory -- the flagship analytical facility for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) of the U.S. Department of the Interior. GSA and USGS dedicated the "world-class laboratory for 21st Century science" on June 9.
The National Water Quality Laboratory provides analytical services in support of the USGS mission to gather data for determining the location, amount, availability, and quality of ground and surface water resources. The NWQL conducts environmental analyses that are geared to detect even the most minute quantity of chemical constituents. These "trace" and "ultratrace" concentrations provide a level of analysis that is more stringent than that required for many existing standards of water quality. Detections of even trace amounts of contaminants can be important when classifying or defining the environment in which the water quality might be changing.
The highly automated, state-of-the-art capability of the NWQL and its high volume of analyses mark it as a unique facility. About 30,000 samples are sent to the NWQL each year, making it one of the largest environmental water-testing facilities in the United States. More than 1.5 million chemical determinations are made from these samples for USGS offices and cooperators with whom the USGS works. The stringent quality control measures employed by the NWQL ensure that the most rigorous standards are upheld. The NWQL has consistently performed at the highest levels of accuracy and reliability in comparability evaluations with other laboratories.
New methods and procedures, developed by the NWQL, have led to significant advances in the science of water chemistry and in knowledge about how water quality is affected by changes in the environment. Examples of these advances include the detection of airborn pesticide residues along the Mississippi River, characterization of hydrophobic ("water fearing") toxic organic compounds near Bemidji, Minn., determining trace metals in arctic snow, and the first detections of MTBE in water, which highlighted an environmental dilemma of air quality versus water quality.
The USGS relies on the NWQL to provide high-quality, low-detection level environmental data for samples that are collected as part of state-by-state investigations and assessments of the Nation's water resources. The USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program, which is providing a significant understanding of the status and trends in water quality across the country relies heavily on the NWQL for all of its analyses, as well as the development of new laboratory and field methods.
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