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Analytical Chemistry: Inorganics and Organics

The DEQ Laboratory is accredited for more than 40 analytical methods by The NELAC Institute and EPA. It analyzes samples collected by the Air Quality Monitoring and Water Quality Monitoring Sections and serves as the principal laboratory for drinking water for the state of Oregon. The Lab also supports the agency in various programs, including sampling for permitting, enforcement and legal purposes, and it works closely with sister agencies on special projects. Data from the Lab is used to determine sources of pollution, the pollution impacts on human and environmental health and if environmental standards are being met. 

Staff works in two main analytical chemistry sections: Inorganic and Organic.

Erica Figliulo

DEQ extractions chemist

Alem Gerbretsadik

DEQ inorganic chemist

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DEQ water quality monitoring specialist

Inorganic Chemistry

Through its highly skilled and experienced staff of chemists, the Inorganic Chemistry Section plays an integral role in DEQ's efforts to monitor the condition of Oregon's environment. It is composed of 13 full-time positions, each of which contribute to fulfilling the agency's mission. Two positions are dedicated to data review and quality assurance, while the other 11 are analytical chemists who work to quantify metal and non-metal inorganic constituents of concern in our state's air, land and water. Combined, the Inorganic Chemistry staff has well over 150 years of experience performing laboratory and field tests.

The Inorganic Chemistry Section generates environmental data used to inform decisions that will help protect the environment and the health of those living in Oregon. A few Inorganic Chemistry Section capabilities include:  

  • Trace metals analysis for air and water pollutants, such as lead and arsenic, which can be toxic to humans and other organisms  
  • Nutrients analysis for nitrate and phosphorous in water, which can contribute to the development of harmful algal blooms 
  • Fine particle concentration measurements in ambient air, which has the potential to cause acute and chronic respiratory ailments  

New Methods in Inorganic Chemistry

Inorganic arsenic - Recently, the Inorganic Chemistry Section brought online a method to measure inorganic arsenic in various types of samples. This methodology is novel in that it combines two analytical technologies, Liquid Chromatography with Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. This allows for automation throughout the analysis and removes manual wet chemistry steps. 

Inorganic arsenic is important to measure, as it represents the toxic form of arsenic. Also, DEQ's human health water quality standard for arsenic is based on the total concentration of the inorganic forms. By adding this analysis, the WQ program can effectively use the Lab's data to assess water quality conditions in the state.

Organic Chemistry

The Organic Chemistry Section's analytical capabilities span a wide range of compounds. The 15 highly skilled staff include sample extraction and analytical chemists, a data reviewer, a quality assurance chemist and a manager. The data produced supports a variety of agency programs, such as the Pesticide Stewardship Partnership, Statewide Groundwater Monitoring, Water Quality Toxics Monitoring, Water Quality Ambient Monitoring, Harmful Algal Blooms, Air Toxics Monitoring and more. The majority of the testing includes:

  • Current use and legacy pesticides found widely across the state, they are measured in water, sediment and tissue
  • Volatile and semi-volatile compounds, including combustion by-products as measured in ambient air and water samples
  • Water quality indicators as analysis of total and dissolved organic carbon, chemical oxygen demand, chlorophyll-a and pheophytin
  • Algal toxins create concerns over harmful algal blooms in the state, which have risen over the past several years. The Organic Chemistry Section expanded its capacity to monitor for algal toxins (microcystins, cylindrospermopsin, anatoxin-a and saxitoxin) in drinking and recreational waters 

New Methods in Organic Chemistry

PFAS in drinking water - The lab recently finalized its protocols for analyzing by EPA Method 533 for PFAS chemicals in drinking water. This work was a critical part of the recent survey of drinking water sources in Oregon for PFAS, funded by the Oregon Health Authority (through an EPA grant). Data results are found on OHA's website

qPCR screening - Working in conjunction with EPA and OHA, the Organic Chemistry Section is evaluating the use of qPCR screening techniques as an early warning tool for harmful algal blooms.