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It started at the end of April with a phone call from a partner with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH). “There’s oil leaking from a pipeline into the Gulf of Mexico that’s causing a large spill, this is going to be big. You should plan on a lot of samples and think about how you can help with the logistics. We are going to need the samples tested and the results back to us ASAP. And, you should plan on a large increase in sample volumes.”
Some 76,000 test samples and six months later, the pace is finally starting to wind down, now that the well is capped. Despite that, the work continues.
“The magnitude of samples is something we had never experienced before, there was a lot of scrambling in the beginning in order to be able to handle the increased workload and the turnaround time requirements,” said Galson President and CEO Joe Unangst. “The challenge was to fulfill the need for CTEH to get the testing results almost immediately. Since we only have so much capacity in our laboratory, and we have other clients we want to keep happy, this was quite a challenge.”
While this was happening, Galson’s other clients were still sending work as well which left the air quality testing laboratory in an extremely high operation mode. “We didn’t build our laboratory to handle this magnitude of work so we had to move very quickly to add the instrumentation, supplies, and staff,” said Joe Unangst. Essentially the minicans had to come in and go right back out. They had to be analyzed, reported, cleaned, and sent back out on a daily basis. “We worked with suppliers and instrument manufacturers to secure sampling badges, minicans, Radiello passive monitors, instruments and other supplies. Even though we had literally cornered the market in passive monitors, and we thought we had enough, we couldn’t afford to slip up and get behind. So we ordered a typical six-month supply of passive monitors and tripled our inventory of minicans and regulators while doubling our instrument capacity in the GC/MS group which allowed us to analyze the samples in a 24-hour timeframe.“
“I’m extremely proud of the staff because the Gulf crisis has been going on for months and people have been taxed for months,” said Executive VP, COO and Laboratory Director Mary Unangst. “It is not possible to quickly hire and train people to do this type of work. It takes over six months to get people certified to perform analysis. The people here put in a tremendous amount of effort and overtime to meet the emergency demands.”
“But our employees have a drive and commitment mentality and everybody at Galson knows that what we do helps to protect people. We keep people out of harm’s way. Our employees take this fact to heart. That is why they are willing to work many hours, weekends, and holidays for months for this extremely important work.”
“Our people in the laboratories figured out ways to get the work out without compromising our integrity or our quality of work. We did that in ways that we can use again in the future. And, we improved and added new ones. We learned how to organize for such a high workload just out of necessity.”
CTEH decided to use a Radiello badge method for sulfide analysis. It was the most convenient method with a low detection limit. “We didn’t have that capability initially so we had to actually develop that capability and validate the method. We tested and verified the method in our environmental chamber, something no one else would have done, and we validated with real live samples because it’s not a typical OSHA or NIOSH method. It was a method developed by a company in Europe. There are things we developed for this project that we can use going forward. Once we had proven and documented the method worked, we were able to analyze hundreds of samples with next-day results,” stated Mary Unangst.
To help expedite the testing process Galson sent Gale Peterson, Section Supervisor, down to the Gulf to help out. “When I was down there it was more for logistics than anything else,” said Peterson. “How can we help them in a timely, accurate fashion with the extreme volume. That was my challenge. So, we helped setup a sample processing center similar to what Galson has set up in our Syracuse laboratory in Mobile, Alabama. That staging site went so well that CTEH wanted to expand that effort to Houma, Louisiana, so we helped set one up there.”
“It’s really quite amazing,” commented Mary Unangst. She explained, “What Gale helped create was very similar to what we have here. She took our processes and brought it to our client’s operation. From our order processing, to our sample receiving, we mirrored every aspect in our operation so Galson’s employees received the samples exactly how we would want to receive them, ultimately removing unnecessary delays.”
Gale added, “We perfected CTEH’s operations so well that the lab was receiving chain of custody forms by fax prior to the samples arriving in Syracuse. This provided valuable information for our log-in department to log the samples in a day ahead of time and verify they were correct when received, enabling us to meet rush turn around times.”
According to Joe Unangst, “While this kind of emergency work is expected to some degree by our employees, it was magnified in that the number of samples was much greater. This volume of samples was never seen or imagined before at Galson.”
He was also thankful for the patience and understanding of his other clients. “We did have to talk to some clients about their work and they understood the emergency nature of the Gulf samples and worked with us on their timing for their samples. But, once we increased our capacities, we were able to handle their work as well. In spite of the rush requirements and magnitude of the Gulf project, we almost never missed a reporting deadline on any client’s work.”
Now that the oil well is capped and the work is declining, Joe reflects, “We’ve learned that we are capable of doing large volumes of samples of this magnitude. I’m not sure if we as a company knew that we could handle something like this for this long duration, but we did. That’s amazing.”
But the work hasn’t stopped there. Simultaneous oil spills in Michigan and Illinois, although much smaller in magnitude, have enabled Galson to take the lessons learned in the Gulf and apply them to projects that several months ago would have felt like a stretch. These latest events are now just all in a day’s work.
About Galson Laboratories
Galson Laboratories provides services in every state and 38 countries. Galson Laboratories works under the principles of continuous improvement and has developed