Center for Urban Waters building cutaway: how it works - floor 2

Explore floor 2

Click on a blue shaded room in the image above to view more information about how it works.

Room 231: semi-volatiles analysis lab Room 230: organics prep/extraction lab Room 225: conventionals analysis lab Room 224: soils lab Room 221: sample cooler Room 220: volatile organics lab

Room 231: semi-volatiles analysis lab

staff in the semi-volatiles analysis lab

In the Semi-Volatiles Analysis lab, scientists analyze samples for semi-volatile organic compounds such as pesticides and herbicides, and compounds found in plastics, shampoos and oils. The lab monitors about 200 compounds that are known or suspected to be harmful. Results from these analyses help determine pollution loading to regional waterways and helps investigators identify potential pollution sources so they can be addressed and controlled.

In this lab:

  • Specific organic chemicals regulated by the EPA and Department of Ecology are identified and quantified using state-of-the-art high precision instrumentation.
  • Gas chromatographs equipped with highly sensitive mass spectrometers (GC/MS) are used to identify and measure a vast array of organic chemicals that can be toxic or harmful to humans and the environment.
  • Scientist can identify and measure various petroleum products to aid in source identification and hazard assessment.

Room 230: organics prep/extraction lab

In the Organics Prep/Extraction lab, scientists prepare water and soil samples for semi-volatile gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis. Among the many chemicals of interest are polyaromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The City is required to monitor these chemicals of concern in stormwater, sediments, and industrial discharges.

In this lab:

  • Samples are prepared by extracting chemicals of concern from water, soil and sediment; organic compounds are extracted using an organic solvent that isolates these chemicals.
  • After chemicals of concern are extracted from the matrix (the phase in which the chemicals reside e.g., water, soil, or sediment), they are concentrated and prepared for GC/MS analysis.

Room 225: conventionals analysis lab

conventionals analysis lab

In the Conventionals Analysis lab, scientists perform over 30 different analyses that provide key information about water quality and soil composition. Information about turbidity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and nutrient content are important indicators scientists use to monitor and assess water quality. Scientists also test for the presence of cyanide, oil and grease, and biochemical oxygen demand, in municipal and industrial discharges.

In this lab:

  • State-of-the-art instrumentation allows scientists to measure nutrients at very low concentrations with a high degree of precision and accuracy.
  • Information vital to understanding water quality and ensuring compliance with various environmental regulations for conventional chemical analysis stems from the data generated in this laboratory.

Room 224: soils lab

Soil and sediment samples from a variety of environmental sampling projects are processed in this laboratory.  Specialized equipment is used to dry, grind, sieve, and mill samples to produce highly homogenized aliquots.  Sophisticated microwave technology is used to extract toxic organic chemicals from soils and sediments. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) instrumentation is used to rapidly identify and quantify arsenic and lead in soils.

In this lab:

  • Scientists carefully prepare samples for instrumental analysis.
  • XRF technology is used to assist with determining waste disposal compliance for soils originating from sites within the Tacoma Arsenic Plume.
  • Microwave technology helps drive toxic chemicals out of complex matrices into high purity solvents for instrumental analysis.


Room 221: sample cooler

After samples are received they are stored in a cooler until they are processed. This is important in order to obtain accurate analytical results for the sample.

Room 220: volatile organics lab

staff in the volatiles analysis lab

In the Volatile Organics Analysis lab, scientists study and analyze volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in samples. VOCs are chemicals that volatilize (or evaporate) when they are exposed to air, and can affect our health and the environment. These compounds are found in a variety of everyday products, from dry erase markers, cosmetics and perfumes to industrial and construction materials. VOCs can remain in groundwater until they biodegrade. VOCs migrate with the groundwater and can enter drinking water wells.

In this lab:

  • VOCs are identified in various types of samples such as soil, stormwater, wastewater and sediment.
  • A Mass Selective Detector (the MS part of the GC/MS) is used to break a chemical into fragments. Since each chemical breaks apart differently, the fragmentation pattern or chemical “fingerprint” is used to identify and quantify the compounds of interest by comparing the “fingerprint” to a reference library of known chemicals.