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Born a Texan, but traveled the US extensively.  Now staying on the East coast.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Fire Takes Off

Each sample that came to the lab left an impression in me.  We had no computers to compile all this information, but my mind retained it.  Homeowners were bringing samples because they wanted to know the mineral content, more specifically how hard the water was.
I added several tests relating to this because, well i was curious.
A representative of a national treatment company began bringing sample for potability testing and because i was curious, i would take a small sample and do extra tests with it.
Some where deep inside, the usefulness of these numbers was beginning to come alive, for they showed a bit of truth and they were not supporting the contention of the treatment people.
My first battle for the homeowners in Stamford had begun.
The battle only lasted a short time with this company, they left the area not willing to do a pitched battle with reality.
They were replaced by others, some claiming that the devices they were selling would cure every thing, i called consumer protection and they left.
Some treatment companies were not so hostile to the truth and actually allied with the results i would find in the lab.
I was sent to speak to the North Stamford Homeowners association because of these battles and was well received.  With as little as i knew (that of course, i did not know then, but now i do), I sounded like an expert and people began to bring in more water samples.
A group of brothers who were all well drillers, started to use me exclusively for all of their testing.  I believe i learned more from them, than they from me.
They brought back into my life the little creature, iron bacteria.  While iron bacteria has no health effects, it does a great job creating a mat effectively stopping any filter.  This i had learned in my short stint at the oil company lab, now this knowledge was becoming useful.
Chemistry was having an impact and helping people and I was beginning to feel useful, again.
It also meant that the thing in my being that got me in trouble in some of my previous jobs, that feeling that truth should not be hidden, was useful in this job.
Some where i learned of the power the health department wielded for on a Sunday, working at my part time job, i went to lunch at a fast food restaurant downtown.  There were roaches everywhere and i brought it to the attention of the manager, who treated me very rudely, finishing his tirade at me with "IF you don't like it, tell the health department!"   I replied something like, "I am the health department", and the next day i went to the primary person in charge of restaurants who proceeded to inspect and issue orders to the fast food place.  The manager treated him rudely also and a letter was sent to the corporate offices of the fast food place and the manager was fired.
I was impressed because there was much that could be done to help people, though i realized that this power could also be misused.
A summer's day, a lunch in the administrative office of the health department and everyone feel ill, including the health director.  This was my first experience with food borne illness.  The lab director knew what to do, i did not.  I watched, listened and learned.  Samples of every food were brought to the lab and tested.  The verdict?  It was the cold rice salad that had been left  out of refrigeration for too long.  Staph toxin was the result and my eyes opened wide.   I had known about chicken and eggs and pork and those issues, but rice, i never would have thought.
From that point on we would assist the Environmental Health personnel with food borne investigations.
As a public health lab we were not exactly under any other department , but we were supporting all of them with our testing.  We were under the direction of the health director, who was considered to be an agent of the State health director and we were considered to be an arm of the state lab.  There were times my direct boss, would expand without direct authority of the health director, but with his permission, such was the next element of testing the lab became involved in.
An undercover police person asked my boss if we could tell him a baggie of white powder he had purchased in an operation was cocaine.  Since we had been screening for drugs for the half way house in urine, testing this was easy.  My boss agreed and we began testing a few drug samples for the police.  This soon became a large cache of drugs from every CI (confidential investigation) and arrest for possession brought to the lab every three weeks.
The best part of this?  We got money to buy equipment!  As long as in some way it might be used for drug testing for the police the boards approving money requests would not say no.  I ordered many things that we needed for water testing, which could also be used, sometimes, for drug testing.
This money did not allow me to buy every thing i wanted, but the testing program was coming more into line with best practices and that made me happy.
More homeowners were coming to us with samples of their well water.
While i was both busy and happy, my boss still kept a watchful eye that i did not do anything else stupid, for a long, long time.
The testing we were doing for the shellfish beds were basically a monitoring of the treatment plant.  The method was long and tedious and the beds were initially under the regulation of the state of Connecticut and we were doing them a favor.
A massive undertaking by the Water pollution Control department (part of the city, but not) to find sewer lines not connected to the treatment plant resulted in a lot of testing and i was included and then there was overtime, lots of overtime.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to take an interest in all shellfishing areas and began to regulate the labs which did the testing.  The state accepted us and they felt it was no problem, but the exercise to become certified was examining a control sample sent by the FDA that resembled testing the shellfish themselves, not just the water.  My boss never forced me to anything, but he had a way of encouraging that was very persuasive.  The certification was for the analyst and my boss wanted me to be certified.  The testing took seven days and in the end i became certified to do the testing, along with my boss.
With no further straying on my part, the work became more intense.  There was still a slow time in the winter, but it was not as intense and i was busy changing more tests, trying different "standard" methods to see what would work best.  I had discovered i could always order chemicals, one of our grants seemed to cover it.  More of the public would come in with different things for us to look at and most of the time it fell to me to try to find out what it was.
My reputation began to grow and my greatest ability was actually listening to people to find out what was really needed. 

The forensic testing was growing and another technician was hired strictly for that work, but there was enough for me to get involved often.
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