Each day, DEP’s lab receives 600 to 700
samples from around the state. A variety of sample types come to the lab for analysis
– including water, hazardous waste, soils, air and algae. Collecting cyanobacteria (blue-green algae)
for testing requires specialized training and strict adherence to statewide protocols.
Samples for toxin analysis must be collected in clean amber bottles, stored on wet ice,
and shipped to the DEP laboratory. Sample containers must be stored in the dark. Algal samples are given to taxonomists in
the algal lab. There, taxonomists examine the sample under a microscope. They identify
species prevalent in the sample and determine whether potential toxin producing species
are present. If an algal sample contains species known
to produce toxins, then the chemistry lab is notified and the sample is analyzed for
algal toxins. DEP’s chemists use a liquid chromatography
tandem mass spectrometer to measure algal toxins. Taxonomy and toxin data are used to determine
what, if any, actions are needed to manage the algae, maintain healthy ecosystems and
protect human health.