EPA Water Lab Alliance Holds Summit

Partnering with the Association of Public Health Laboratories, EPA’s Water Security Division conducted the Third National Water Lab Alliance Summit last week in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Summit brought together more than 130 participants from water utility labs, state labs, technical assistance providers, state drinking water programs and emergency management agencies, and EPA Regional and Headquarters staff engaged in security-related initiatives.  Keynote and Welcoming Remarks were offered by EPA’s Region 4 Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming and Bob Read of the Tennessee Department of Health Laboratory Services.

The majority of the Summit focused on a very interesting tabletop exercise that asked participants to identify their role in responding to the event; describe their responsibilities; and explain how they would offer and/or receive support from other laboratories both locally and within another Region.  The exercise also focused on effective communication and notification procedures within the lab community as well as externally with elected officials, the media, and the response community.  Appropriate sampling an analysis protocols, quality assurance/quality control, data validation, recordkeeping, and reimbursement concerns were also discussed during the exercise.  Participants were challenged to think beyond their comfort zone and doing business as usual to consider what they would need to do and how they would do it under extraordinary circumstances.  “Tech Town,” an exhibitor space to demonstrate available tools and resources, provided attendees useful information on the best available technologies such as the Water Contaminant Information Tool (WCIT) and WebEDR (an electronic data review tool).

Andrew Sawyers, the newly named Deputy Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, spoke to the group on the final morning of the Summit.  He emphasized that water security is not “new.”  We can reach back to the Safe Drinking Water Act and see the foundations for risk assessment, sustainability, demonstratng value for dollars spent, and a defensible justification for action (public health protection) grounded in the SDWA regulatory program.   By doing this, we can broaden the focus from response to preparedness.  Speakers from EPA’s Office of Emergency Management, Research and Development, and the OGWDW Water Security Division shared various perspectives and described how their programs fit into the larger, national laboratory network and water security efforts.

Participants were invited to share their thoughts and reactions to both the exercise and the Summit experience in general:

Insights:  Every response event is different; ‘success’ depends on well developed relationships and established networks before an event; and tools – both new and older – should be used.

Take Home Messages:  State labs should become part of a WARN and labs need to cross check lab emergency plans and protocols.

Most Useful Element of the Summit:  Learning about tools; hearing new ideas; and meeting peers.

EPA’s Water Security Division plans to post materials and presentations from the Summit on the WLA website at www.water.epa.gov/infrastructure/watersecurity/wla/

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