It's sedimentary my dear

My work often involves me taking water or sediment samples, which I send off to a lab for analysis. A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I had a meeting at the lab, to see their work in action.

Water samples are taken and analysed for a variety of reasons:

  • Following a water pollution incident, the water quality data can be used to help us locate a polluter or pollution source
  • To try and determine the source of leaks from or into our canals
  • To determine if blue green algae is present
  • To monitor sites where water sports take place 
  • Samples are usually taken to determine how we can dispose of sediment after we've been dredging

The tour around the lab was fascinating. Our first stop was at sample reception, a huge unit which deals with a large number of samples every day. As soon as the samples arrive they are barcoded, with a unique reference number. I enclosed a form with the samples, which details the analysis that is required. This is recorded against the samples barcode. The importance of the barcoding becomes clear as different parts of the sample are then sent different parts of the lab for analysis.  

We then walked around the rabbit warren of analytical labs (all undertaking different types of analysis), which store an array of sampling equipment and lab analysts. It all looked very complicated and as there are very strict analytical procedures, the work has been to be very ordered. 

The lab, like all labs in Britain, is overseen by UKAS which is a body which ensures that all lab work within the UK meets agreed standards. This gives us, the client, confidence that our results are accurate. 

The UKAS standards also impacts on me. I need to make sure that samples are collected in the correct sampling pots (not jam jar, lunch boxes or wellington boots). Some samples need to be at the lab within 24 hours of sampling, to ensure that compounds have not started to breakdown.

By taking samples we can make sure that the water quality in our canals and rivers is the best it can be. The lab analysis helps us manage the waterway environment, ensuring both people and wildlife can thrive in our unique environment.



Last date edited: 26 September 2014

About this blog

Sara has been with the Trust for 17 years, working in the environment team. She is a senior environmental scientist and will cover waste and water quality issues. She works closely with the South Wales and Severn Waterway team but her work will also pick up national issues, such as the Water Framework Directive.


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