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An Inside Look: PWD’s Bureau of Laboratory Services

A glass of water to drink, a hot morning shower, water for the backyard plants – we use water every day without thinking about it. From river to home, water takes an incredible journey through human invention and ingenuity. At the same time that you take that early morning shower, scientists across the city rise early to take daily samples of Philadelphia’s drinking water. The engineers, chemist and biologists that work at PWD’s Bureau of Laboratory Services (BLS) are the ones who help make sure our water remains clean and safe, so we don’t have to think about it every time we use the tap.  

BLS tests water in all of its stages of treatment, and in many places as it flows from the treatment plants to homes and businesses. The technology in the labs ranges from state of the art equipment that can detect very small concentrations of chemicals to tried and true taste testers! The gas chromatograph can detect the presence of organic compounds at a concentration of one part per trillion. This is the equivalent of one penny in ten billion dollars. In addition, BLS has a trained panel of taste and odor experts that use their noses and tongues to detect certain flavors in Philadelphia’s water.

BLS staff work with regulatory organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as other city entities like the Health Department and Licenses and Inspections to protect public health. Philadelphia’s water consistently exceeds federal drinking water standards.  In addition to testing water, BLS also tests materials used to make water pipes, or the compost made from sewage wastes. Finally – BLS helps out other City Departments, testing firefighters coats or paint for airport runways.   

BLS laboratories are located across the city, in inconspicuous buildings that mean more to the safety of this City than you would guess from the exterior. The next time you run the water, think about the incredible journey of water and thank the Bureau of Laboratory Services for keeping it clean and safe. You can read more here.

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