LLNL now operating the EPA National Environmental Reference Laboratory

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Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) visited the Laboratory on Jan. 23 to inaugurate the EPA National Homeland Security Environmental Reference Laboratory. From left to right: Larry Zintek, EPA Region 5; Dennis Wesolowski, EPA Region 5 lab director; Dan Bordreau, EPA Region 1; Rob Maxfield, EPA Region 1 lab director; Brenda Bettencourt, EPA Region 9 lab director; and Oba Vincent, EPA project sponsor.

As of January, LLNL is operating the lead environmental reference laboratory for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA, through its Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, is establishing a network of laboratories to analyze environmental samples. In addition to environmental monitoring and surveillance, this Environmental Laboratory Response Network or eLRN will provide analysis in the event of possible chemical terrorist attacks or other incidents of national significance.

Central to this network are reference laboratories, which will lead the development and validation of analytical methods for toxic industrial compounds and chemical warfare agents. The reference labs will see to it that reliable, accurate, sensitive and timely methods exist for analyzing each compound of concern. As the lead reference laboratory, LLNL is heading up this effort under the direction of EPA’s National Homeland Security Center.

"The Laboratory is ideally suited to this role," said Ellen Raber, Response and Recovery program leader in Global Security’s Chemical and Biological Countermeasures Division. "We have unique capabilities in chemical analysis, especially chemical warfare analysis, as well as the established safety and operating procedures for this kind of work."

The Forensic Science Center (FSC) will be the focus for the new EPA work, explained Raber. The FSC is the only facility in the country that is able to receive and analyze unknown samples that may contain chemical or biological agents, radioactive material and/or explosives at a single location. Since it was established in 1991, the FSC has performed work for the U.S. departments of Energy, Defense, and Homeland Security as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Food and Drug Administration and various state and local law enforcement agencies.

"We have standardized protocols to support much of our analyses," said Dennis Reutter, FSC director. "Of particular importance in performing work for outside agencies, we adhere to rigorous chain-of-custody procedures and documentation.

"Our proficiency in this field is demonstrated by our OPCW designation. The FSC is one of only two laboratories in the United States and 19 worldwide designated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, to analyze samples collected during inspections to monitor compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. We have retained our status as an OPCW-designated laboratory since 2003, which is no small feat."

"Our OPCW work really showcases the strength of the FSC to bring together people with different technical skills — in sample preparation, instrumental analysis, chemical synthesis, mining the technical literature and quality assurance — to solve difficult problems and has put us in a unique position to contribute to the solution of problems of national importance," said Carolyn Koester, principal investigator for the new eLRN reference laboratory at the Laboratory.

The new EPA work also builds on the Laboratory’s long-standing capabilities in environmental monitoring aimed at understanding the fate and persistence of chemicals in the environment.

As the lead interim reference laboratory, LLNL will coordinate the multi-laboratory validation of analytical methods for a list of chemical warfare agents and their degradation products. The Laboratory has established a dedicated EPA eLRN laboratory on site and will provide technical support to the eLRN laboratories, including training and training manuals. In the event of a national emergency, LLNL would provide surge capacity for the analysis and characterization of suspect samples.

"The EPA’s goal in setting up this Environmental Laboratory Response Network is to make sure we have the analytical capabilities to respond to a chemical incident in a timely fashion," Raber said.

"With such capabilities in place, the EPA will be able to accurately assess the risk and determine the appropriate response to ensure public safety and restore facilities to normal operations as quickly as possible. As the lead reference laboratory, LLNL is a critical piece of this national capability and we are looking forward to working for EPA in the important role."


March 14, 2008


Lauren de Vore
[email protected]