Year in Review: Key Issues of 2018

As we prepare to welcome 2019, I find it important to reflect on some of the key industry issues of 2018 as they provide a prelude to the focal-points and challenges our industry is sure to experience in the New Year.

January: Lead Testing in Schools

At the beginning of the year, industry focus was on lead testing in schools to protect children’s health. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) partnered with the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on a webinar concerning AB 746, which requires community water systems to test lead levels in the drinking water of schools that were constructed before 2010. The webinar also addressed requirements for lead-testing-related bills SB 1398 and SB 427. Testing for lead in drinking water, particularly in schools, was a major topic of concern for 2018 and will likely resurge in 2019, as regulatory deadlines approach.  

February: 1,2,3-TCP Monitoring & Permanent Water Restrictions

1,2,3-TCP testing was also a hot button industry issue at the beginning of the year, as state-mandated quarterly monitoring under the new California MCL of five parts per trillion (ppt) commenced. Babcock Labs played an integral role in helping local water systems comply with 1,2,3-TCP monitoring regulations this year, as a number of other laboratories lacked accreditation or adequate capacity.

In February the State Board considered reinstating and making permanent many of the water restrictions that California enacted during the recent five-year dry spell. Despite some water agencies’ concerns over the state’s authority to impose permanent restrictions, in March California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 606 and AB 1668. These bills require cities, water districts, and large agricultural water districts to set strict annual water budgets, potentially facing fines of $1,000 per day if they don’t meet them, and $10,000 a day during drought emergencies. Under the bills, each urban water provider is required to come up with a target for water use by 2022.

March: Independent Testing & First Women-Owned ESOP Lab

In March the American Council of Independent Laboratories (ACIL) and its guests delivered a Congressional Briefing on the value of 3rd party independent testing and conformity assessment under the Energy Star program. The speakers, including Babcock Laboratories Director Brad Meadows, shed light on the cost effectiveness and impartiality of independent testing and the success of the Energy Star program beyond our borders, around the globe. Moreover, the presenters illuminated the fact that 3rd party testing employs thousands of people in the U.S. and accounts for many small businesses, such as independent environmental laboratories.

On International Women's Day in March, Babcock Labs announced its designation as a Women-Owned Business. As a 100 percent Employee-Owned company, this status is not only unique, it is historic. It is our understanding that we are the first 100 percent Employee-Owned company (ESOP) to be granted Women Business Enterprise (WBE) status by the Supplier Clearinghouse. Women make up approximately 65 percent of our total workforce and 90 percent of our organization’s management team. This is rather extraordinary for a STEM-field company and something to be proud of, as women still remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce in the United States.

April: Promoting Science Education & Water Quality

In April I had the opportunity to represent Babcock Labs at numerous events promoting science education and water quality in our community. I spoke to students at the Riverside STEM Academy and served as a panelist at an Entrepreneurial Panel Event hosted by the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS) at the University of California (UCR). I also attended the 2018 LESJWA Water Summit and a fundraising event for the United Way of the Inland Valley’s (UWIV) Girls Excelling in Mathematics with Success (GEMS) program.

Babcock Labs’ involvement in these community events and partnerships is in keeping with our Core Values. Specifically, it aids in our endeavor to foster meaningful, long-term relationships with our community by upholding our values of integrity, respect, knowledge, equity, accountability, communication, and camaraderie. As employee-owners of a STEM company, we believe we have a responsibility to contribute meaningfully to our industry, which includes supporting and encouraging young people interested in pursuing STEM careers.

May: Water Awareness & Workshops

In May Babcock Labs celebrated Water Awareness Month by reminding our community about the importance of water conservation. Homeowner conservation tips from the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) include shutting off sprinklers after rainfall, sweeping rather than spraying driveways and walkways, installing drip and smart irrigation systems, upgrading indoor and outdoor water fixtures, and running only full loads in dishwashing and clothes washing machines.

Babcock Labs also held its semi-annual Drinking Water Workshop in May. The workshop consists of a seminar and hands-on training concerning proper sampling techniques and analysis requirements.  Each workshop attendee receives contact hours and a certificate of completion verifying that they have received proper education and applied training on drinking water sampling. At Babcock Labs we continuously look for ways to provide greater value to our clients, which is why we hold multiple educational seminars and trainings on various industry topics throughout the year.

June: Harmful Algal Blooms & PFAS Concerns

Flowers were not the only thing blooming in June—Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) were on the rise in water bodies all over the country thanks to exceptionally warm weather. HABs are a result of rapid cyanobacterial growth which releases harmful compounds, such as cyanotoxins and aroma compounds, that pose health risks to humans and animals. As a fully-accredited UCMR 4 testing laboratory, Babcock Labs was able to help water clients test for cyanotoxin chemical contaminants requiring EPA Methods 546 (ELISA), 544, and 545.  

In June, concerns over drinking water quality intensified following the CDC’s publication of its report on the health risks of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The study suggested that current health advisories for PFAS, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), may not be strict enough to address serious public health risks. The CDC’s provisional risk level translates to 11 parts per trillion (ppt) for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 7 ppt for and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) in drinking water using the EPA's 2016 health advisory methods and assumptions, according to water quality research scientist Dr. Laurel Schaider. These limits are considerably lower than the EPA’s current health advisory levels of 70 ppt for both compounds.

July: PFOA & PFOS Regulatory Guidelines

On the tails of the CDC report, the State Board established new drinking water guidelines for local water agencies based on OEHHA recommended interim Notification Levels (NLs) for PFOA and PFOS. Although not as low as the CDC’s provisional risk level recommendation, the Board’s Division of Drinking Water (DDW) set interim Drinking Water NLs of 14 parts per trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 13 ppt for PFOS. Additionally, the DDW established an interim Response Level of 70 ppt for the total combined concentration of PFOA and PFOS, consistent with the USEPA’s health advisory level established in 2016.  

As Babcock Labs discussed in one of its September newsletter articles, industry concern is no longer about whether or not to test for PFOA and PFOS, but how to test for these constituents in drinking water and non-drinking water matrices, respectively.

August: Wildfire Effects on Water Quality

By August our state was in the throes of the most destructive fire season on record. At that time Cal Fire had already documented over 876,400 acres burned, which was more than four times the acreage burned compared to August 2017. In addition to the tragic consequences wildfires pose for people, wildlife, structures, and firefighters, Babcock Labs wanted to bring attention to the costly aftereffects on water quality. Wildfire effects on water quality are both short- and long-term, as wildfires increase the costs associated with water treatment and the need for alternative supplies, as well as diminish reservoir capacity.

Although experts warned that our state’s wildfire season was far from over, no one at the time could have foreseen the apocalyptic devastation of the Woolsey and Camp fires that destroyed the lives of so many Californians. Due to the significance of this issue and the widespread impact it has had on our community, we have included another article on the effects of the California wildfires, as well as information on what we as a water industry can do to help wildfire victims, in our Holiday newsletter.

September: Cultivating Conservation

In September the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) provided insight into what motivates consumers to use less water. According to the research of Dr. Katrina Jessoe, a professor and economist at UC Davis and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center’s research network, there are a few winning strategies water agencies can implement to help their customers adopt conservation-conscious habits. Babcock Labs wrote about these winning strategies in its September newsletter.

October: Recycled Water & ESOP Month

Babcock Labs was proud to sponsor the October University of California, Riverside (UCR) Citizens University Committee (CUC) Breakfast.  At the event, UCR Ph.D. Candidate Daniel Harmon gave a presentation on his research concerning recycled water and public opinion. Specifically, Dr. Harmon presented his “toilet-to-tap” taste test findings.

Also in October, the employee-owners at Babcock Labs celebrated national Employee Ownership Month! As a 100 percent employee-owned company, Babcock Labs celebrates with month-long events focused on ownership education and team pride. As a company that operates via an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), our employees have stock in the company which in turn gives our staff greater incentive to provide our clients with exceptional analytical testing services. Essentially, by investing in the quality of the work we provide, each of us here at Babcock Labs is investing in our future and the futures of our fellow coworkers. It’s a win for our clients and it’s a win for our team. Additionally, it’s a win for our community because employee ownership and our ability to stay independent from multi-national network labs keeps revenue local, as our business and employees invest their earnings back into the local economy.

November: Thankful for Being a Top Workplace

Babcock Laboratories is thankful for its designation as a Top Workplace in the Inland Empire for the second year in a row! On Thursday, November 29th, the Inland News Group held its fifth Annual Top Workplaces Event to announce the 2018 Top Workplace winners. Babcock Labs ranked ninth overall in the small business category.  The Inland News Group and its survey partner Energage of Philadelphia invited 807 organizations in the Inland Empire to participate in this year’s Top Workplaces program. More than 30,000 employees were surveyed and 40 companies and organizations were honored as the best places to work in 2018.

This year marks the third year (2014, 2017, and 2018) that Babcock Labs has received this prestigious award. It is a privilege to be a 2018 Top Workplace. We are grateful for our staff's continued confidence in and dedication to our organization, and we could not be more proud of our team!

December: Rain in the Nick of Time

An infamous contributor to the disastrous 2018 fire season was the obscenely hot summer/dry autumn sequence California experienced. Just as our heroic firefighters put out the blazes of the Camp and Woolsey fires, massive storm events brought rain to California, ending the deadliest fire season in state history.

Despite sparse storm events in Spring, the vast majority of the state did not experience a significant storm event until late November, thanks in part to El Niño. For Industrial General Permit (IGP) holders navigating consistently drier and more unpredictable stormwater seasons, the rain came in the nick of time to meet stormwater discharge sampling requirements for the first half of the new reporting year.

As we are now two months into the 2019 “water year” (October 2018—September 2019), the storm events of the past two weeks have helped to alleviate the precipitation deficit of the 2018 water year. The verdict is still out, however, on whether these storm systems are indicative of a wetter 2019 water year overall.

It’s been quite a year! Babcock Labs wishes you and yours happy holidays filled with loved ones, good health, and cheer. See you next year!