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  Science & Technology  
  June 13, 2005
Volume 83, Number 24
pp. 27-28


Unique traveling laboratory is used to teach water and wastewater testing throughout Texas

BOD TEST Students learn how to conduct five-day biological oxygen demand tests in the mobile laboratory.
If you're driving on a highway in Texas, don't be too surprised if you see a huge, gleaming chemical laboratory going by. It's a unique mobile laboratory that's used to instruct and certify water and wastewater treatment personnel throughout the state in the use of efficient, accurate, and safe laboratory testing procedures.

"In Texas, water and wastewater treatment plant operators must be certified at various levels, and we provide all the courses they need to meet continuing education requirements," says Keith McLeroy, an instructor in the Water & Wastewater Training Program with the Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), part of the Texas A&M University system. The hands-on laboratory courses provide water and wastewater training credits that students can use to earn state certification.

"Federal and state regulations require water and wastewater to be analyzed to ensure quality and ensure that treatment processes are functioning correctly," McLeroy says. "The training focuses on ensuring that required analyses of drinking water and wastewater are properly conducted."

For example, Intermediate Water Laboratory, a 32-hour, four-day course, offers comprehensive training on Environmental Protection Agency- and state-approved methods for the analysis of raw and treated water. Laboratory technicians and plant operators who take the course gain skills in analytical procedures, calibration, troubleshooting techniques, and data analysis.

The mobile laboratory is housed in a 41-foot, $350,000 trailer. The trailer is equipped with an 18,000-W generator with supplemental solar power. And it contains about $90,000 worth of laboratory equipment and instrumentation--including spectrophotometers, laboratory kits for water and wastewater analysis, dissolved oxygen meters, total organic carbon analyzers, and turbidity meters.

KEEP ON TRUCKIN' The laboratory is housed in this 41-foot trailer.
KEEP ON TRUCKIN' The laboratory is housed in this 41-foot trailer.

See a movie about the mobile lab
(11 MB)

The training program started two-and-one-half years ago and has trained about 300 participants so far. It is supported by government grants, enrollment fees, and contracts with industry and local government agencies.

"No other state agency has a hands-on mobile laboratory or set of training courses like ours," McLeroy says. "We're the first ones in the country roaming around with a hands-on laboratory training course geared specifically to water and wastewater analysis. Several other states have called TEEX to ask if the laboratory can visit their state. But for now, we're scheduled only for courses in Texas."

Some of McLeroy's students have had no prior laboratory experience and learn water and wastewater testing procedures in the mobile laboratory for the first time. "Many have never titrated, used a spectrophotometer, or calibrated a pH meter," McLeroy says. "I'm always eager to move on to the next town and teach the lab skills that operators need to keep our drinking water safe and compliant with regulations and our environment clean."

CHLORINE TEST Students taking one of the laboratory's courses learn proper procedures for measuring chlorine content in drinking water samples.
HANDS-ON TRAINING "is one of the most successful approaches to teaching the basics of laboratory sciences," he notes. "Proof of that is from the end-of-class surveys that the students complete. Almost 99% of those taught so far have said they have gained a new skill they can utilize back at their jobs and have gained a greater appreciation for chemistry and biology."

What is the rationale for the lab being mobile? "Some states have central training locations," McLeroy says, "but those states are not as large as Texas and may not have some of the more stringent training requirements that Texas has for water and wastewater operators and laboratory technicians. Travel in Texas can be very time-consuming, and it's costly for cities to send individuals to required training," he explains.

Furthermore, McLeroy continues, "many small and medium-size water and wastewater utilities may have only two to four full-time operators at the plant" and cannot easily manage extended leave time for those key personnel. Also, travel entails additional food and lodging expenses. "Taking training to a location with the mobile lab makes it easier for individuals to attend the course," he says.

"There are well over 22,000 water and wastewater operators who require training and certification throughout the state," McLeroy notes. "The schedule is well-planned in advance to ensure that at some point all those individuals will be able to find a training location in their region. The mobile lab is just the beginning of where training is going in the 21st century for water and wastewater operators in our state."

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2005

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