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Staff hosts open house Oct. 9-10, offers low-cost water sample testing


By Suzie Romig

The inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer, at right, with the duct hose leading up into the ceiling, is one of the pieces of high-tech equipment in Colorado Mountain College's new Timberline Analytical Lab. The ICP, as it's also called, measures multiple elements at low levels precisely, accurately and quickly, allowing students to receive faster analysis of water and soil samples. Photo Kato Dee

The inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer, at right, with the duct hose leading up into the ceiling, is one of the pieces of high-tech equipment in Colorado Mountain College's new Timberline Analytical Lab. The ICP, as it's also called, measures multiple elements at low levels precisely, accurately and quickly, allowing students to receive faster analysis of water and soil samples. Photo Kato Dee

Colorado Mountain College faculty and students who collected water and soil samples in the region often waited months to receive results from overworked outside laboratories.

“Private labs are overwhelmed. Given the very short field season here, if something needed to be resampled, it was often too late,” explained Dr. Sandra Harting, associate professor of science at the college’s Timberline Campus in Leadville.

That timeline for professional lab results now is significantly shorter. The new Timberline Analytical Lab, or TAL, at the campus is up and running and features an important piece of high-tech equipment that usually is found at research-oriented, four-year universities. This summer the campus staff installed a $65,000 inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer. The high-tech chemistry instrument measures multiple elements at low levels precisely, accurately and quickly, explained Kato Dee, assistant professor in the campus’s natural resource management program.

“This will greatly enhance the analytical component of research that is so often missing from a lot of two-year schools,” Dee said. “It helps significantly expand student learning. The students will get the opportunity to see how the samples are analyzed and the resulting data. The lab adds a different component to the classroom and field experiences.”

Community members will have the chance to tour the lab during an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9 and 10. The lab staff is offering the public inexpensive tests of water samples, starting at $10 for an analysis for EPA primary drinking water metals and $10 more for additional chemical analyses.

This ion chromatograph is one of the pieces of high-tech equipment in Colorado Mountain College's new Timberline Analytical Lab. The IC analyzes ions and ionic compounds in solutions, such as fluoride, chloride and bromide. Photo Kato Dee
This ion chromatograph is one of the pieces of high-tech equipment in Colorado Mountain College’s new Timberline Analytical Lab. The IC analyzes ions and ionic compounds in solutions, such as fluoride, chloride and bromide. Photo Kato Dee

Programs, classes, community partners to benefit from lab

The new lab will be used by instructors and students in natural resource management, historical preservation and science classes.

“Our students will now have access to top-of-the-line equipment that they would use if they were working in the natural resource or chemistry field in the real world,” Harting said. “I teach chemistry classes, and we most certainly will be using this instrumentation as part of our lab experiments. It enables the natural resource management projects to get a quick turnaround and results on the samples they take.”

The college staff works with various local nonprofits to offer sample analysis at reduced rates, including partnering with Trout Unlimited to monitor stream drainage from an abandoned mine tunnel that is leaching copper, cadmium, lead, zinc and trace amounts of arsenic.

The lab will provide essential services to partnering state and federal agencies in the Rocky Mountain region that monitor streams, soils, wetlands and aquatic life. The natural resource management staff currently is working with U.S. Forest Service officials in Summit County to analyze samples from abandoned silver, copper and zinc mining sites. The new equipment can identify elements in a solution via wavelengths of light to find out if the sample contains dangerous or toxic substances.

The TAL should provide a boost to the campus’s revenue stream through increased research projects and grant funding, said Dee, who also is working on his doctorate in geochemistry at Colorado School of Mines.

Development of the analytical lab started gradually in 2006 after Dee moved from an environmental consulting firm in Fort Collins to join Colorado Mountain College. Other equipment in the lab ranges from an x-ray fluorescent spectrometer to a microwave-powered digester. Seed money for the lab came through the CMC Foundation.

Dee said the development of the TAL is unique at the college and in the region since similar analytical labs can only be found in Grand Junction, Steamboat Springs or on the Front Range.

For more information about the types and costs of the water sample testing, contact Dee at (719) 486-4222 or kdee@coloradomtn.edu or Harting at (719) 293-0529 or sharting@coloradomtn.edu.