Kathy A. Graff

Government laboratory work

I have had mixed experience in this area, so I am presenting this as a case history.

US Army Construction Engineering Research Lab

Champaign IL

I managed a laboratory for analysis of water, waste water, solid waste, air pollution, and other materials to support the Environmental Engineering program for about four years. Responsibilities included running waste water treatment pilot plant operations, keeping records for sample custody, analysis data and measurements, writing reports on results, and maintaining a mobile lab and field equipment ready for deployment at short notice.

Analysis procedures included colorimetric, titrimetric, and gravimetric methods, gas chromatography, HPLC, pulse polarography, autoanalyzers, and atomic absorption spectrometry. Testing procedures ranged from routine water quality measurements to trace pesticide and explosives residues.

The mission was to bring government facilities into compliance with pollution control regulations. I was part of a team that included highly skilled and dedicated civilian and military engineers.

State Health Department

After working in the engineering lab, I took a position in a state health department (location is not identified, other than that I don't live there now) where I supervised a lab for monitoring radioactive isotopes in the environment around a nuclear waste disposal site and from test bores on site. When I began work there, I found that only one of the test methods was working properly. Although it was giving accurate results, they were being disregarded because they didn't match the noise plots the other tests were giving.

I instituted a program for calibrating instruments regularly and using recognized standard methods of analysis for all routine tests and repaired broken equipment. Next I tried to get caught up on a several year backlog of samples waiting for analysis and instituted better sample custody procedures and timely analysis of new samples. I responsibly disposed of unlabeled radioactive substances found in the lab as well as hazardous chemicals that had accumulated over several years of high turnover of previous lab supervisors.

I decided to leave this job when I realized that the reason my throat ached each morning was from screaming in my sleep. Another big factor was that I found I could no longer look people in the eye when I collected drinking water samples near the dump. I reported deficiencies to the governor when supervisors attempted to justify the quality of data reported before changes were instituted while demanding equipment (at taxpayer expense) to run more complex analyses that we had neither staff nor facilities to support. It was a real eye opener that this kind of thing could happen despite being a target of media attention.


As I have gotten older, I have come to believe that there is a reason behind why things happen the way they do. This one has been a puzzle, but based on these and other experiences, here goes:

Wow, seems like my whole site is turning into a blog!