Medical Examiner

Environmental Health

The Environmental Chemistry Laboratory provides analytical support for Allegheny County's Health Department. The laboratory specializes in analyzing air, water, and food samples which are submitted by trained field technicians. All analyses are performed by experienced chemists, utilizing state-of-the-art instrumentation such as High Pressure Liquid Chromatography, Ion Chromatography, Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy and Flame/Furnace Atomic Absorption.

The Health Department’s Division of Air Quality routinely monitors ambient air in Allegheny County. In order to determine the contents of the air, air is forced through special fiber filters, and/or sorbent sample tubes. Following the protocols of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these filters or tubes are then analyzed in the laboratory, for total suspended particles, organics, inorganics, heavy metals and known carcinogens. Non-routine analyses are also performed when a particular incident occurs that may jeopardize the quality of ambient or indoor air. In the event of an air quality violation, legal action, fines and/or shut down of a facility may be required. In order to maintain the highest standards, the laboratory participates in the Environmental Protection Agency's National Performance Audit Program, which is a critical evaluation of the laboratory. The EPA also conducts a yearly written evaluation of the laboratory and periodic on-site evaluation.

In the same capacity, the laboratory supports the Department of Natural Resources of the State of Delaware, and the City of Philadelphia.

Water samples are also submitted to the laboratory for analysis. These come from water treatment plants, private and public facilities throughout Allegheny County. Samples are analyzed for primary and secondary drinking water contaminants which are regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Any value which exceeds the maximum contaminant level is reported to DEP. The laboratory is certified by the DEP on a yearly basis, and completes a yearly water supply performance evaluation and periodic on-site evaluation.

Food samples are submitted by the Health Department’s Division of Food Protection and from local law enforcement agencies. The food samples are analyzed for evidence of product tampering and for the presence of adulterants. All results are reported back to the submitting agency and may also be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Water, dust, paint chips, and soil samples are also submitted to the laboratory. These samples are analyzed for the presence of lead, which may contribute to elevated blood lead levels in children.