TC Lab a Leader in Making Environmental Data Useful

With the help of updated software, SampleServe, a Traverse City environmental sampling and reporting lab, might someday know as much (or more) than its competitors and even the U.S. EPA about polluted sites around the country.

Started by Russ Schindler in 2001, the seven-person company travels throughout the United States to known contaminated hot spots to draw soil and water samples.

Many other companies do the same. What really differentiates SampleServe is its sophisticated software that turns all that data into useful, actionable information. Raw data becomes the fodder for tables, graphs, heat maps, contour reports and detailed studies indicating problem areas.

An updated version of that proprietary is now being beta tested. Unlike the previous iteration, it will accommodate cloud-based mobile and web apps and print labels in the field at the time of data collection.

Once the test phase is complete, Schindler and his business partner, Eric Bergsma, activate a “white labeling” plan aimed at creating a wide market for the product. (A white label product is manufactured by one company and packaged and sold by other companies under various brand names.)

“The (upgraded) software will be branded in our name,” Schindler said. “We’ll be licensing it to other companies. They can take it and put their label on it and resell it.”

SampleServe will maintain control of the software, including future updates.

The primary customer for the white-labeled version, he said, will be environmental labs around the country that are under pressure to improve their reporting.

“It’s something we already do,” Schindler said. “With the software we sell to them, it all happens in a matter of seconds. It’s that powerful.”

Schindler expects SampleServe’s marketing plan to take hold rapidly.

“We should see a bunch of labs come out advertising that they have data management software with interpretive graphs, tables, heat maps and other features,” he said.

The company recruited three prominent environmental labs to help with beta testing the program.

“If I can get the majority of labs to sign with us, our lab will know more about contamination than the U.S. EPA,” Schindler said.

Closer to Home

The company does most of its work outside of Michigan. Technicians recently spent three weeks monitoring and reporting on a chemically-contaminated site in Arkansas, for example. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about this region.

Asked to point to some environmental threats to this part of the country, Schindler had two examples:

Stormwater vs. Wastewater

Keeping stormwater runoff separated from wastewater treatment systems, he said, is a thorny issue inherited by communities throughout the Great Lakes basin. When there is heavy rainfall and the two are combined into one underground network, wastewater treatment facilities can be quickly overwhelmed.

“That’s when you have to hit the bypass switch, because there can be way more water than the facilities can treat,” Schindler said.

In those situations, untreated wastewater ends up in lakes. In the Grand Traverse region and elsewhere, that can lead to beach closings due to high E. coli counts.

But Schindler is optimistic that city officials throughout the state understand (and in many cases are tackling) the problem even though it’s an expensive fix – one that includes having to find the buried pipe systems.

“In the past 15 years or so, Traverse City has actually done a great job in separating the two sources,” he said. “Beach closures are happening less frequently.”

Microfibers

Schindler pointed to a second environmental challenge to this region – the increasing presence of microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic, in the Great Lakes. Until recently, the material was found in many facial scrubs and heavy-duty hand cleaners.

Pressure from environmental regulators has decreased usage of plastic microbeads, but plastic microparticles in clothes continue to be a problem.

“It’s not something a lot of people are aware of,” Schindler said. “Clothes makers use a lot of plastic. When those clothes are laundered, the wastewater goes to the treatment plant. The problem is that plants aren’t great at removing those particles, so the stuff gets discharged into lakes and rivers.”

Ultimately, the materials bioaccumulate in the aquatic food chain, often starting with smaller fish, who are eaten by larger fish.

“It’s upsetting the whole ecosystem,” he said, “and it’s getting to be more and more of an issue.”

 

 

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