Tour of WA State Public Health Laboratory

Thanks to one of our members, we were able to set up a private tour of the WA State  Department of Public Health (Division of Disease Control), this past Thursday in Shoreline, WA. We had a great turnout, and the almost 2 hour tour was excellent! This facility services the entire state of WA, and does work on a wide variety of infectious diseases and contaminants in our environment. They handle BSL level 3 activities (such as TB). According to their website, they "provide diagnostic and analytical services for the assessment & surveillance of infectious, communicable, genetic, and chronic diseases and environmental health concerns". 

Our tour included divisions of Epidemiology, Environmental Sciences, Newborn Screening, and Infectious Diseases.  Infectious diseases included STDs, TB, Rabies, and MMR to name a few. A highlight was watching a technician dissect a rabies infected bat found on the University of WA campus. Click through the pictures below to view some bats that were provided by the Burke Museum:

The Environmental Sciences group tests air, water and ground contaminants. This group is comprised mostly of chemists, trying to detect things outside our body, that could potentially harm humans.  For example, they can detect nuclear isotopes which is important given our proximity to DOE's Nuclear Hanford Site in Eastern WA. They are also involved in monitoring our air quality, which was vitally important after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 (winds brought radioactive particles to our shore). In addition to isotope detecting, they also monitor neurotoxins in our coastal waters. They have a dedicated shellfish lab where they collect and test shellfish regularly, so we know if our local shellfish is safe to eat. Here are a few pictures you can click through to see their labs and instrumentation:

The newborn screening group was in a newer section of the building and had an incredible MS-MS (mass spec - mass spec) that could screen up to 75 different assays at once. Currently they use it for 18 of the 29 different screening tests that are mandated by the state of WA on all babies. It was fascinating! Here's a last set of pictures that include some specialized baby formula that they offer to PKU families in need:

It was obvious that all of the scientists who took time out of their busy schedules to show us their labs, are extremely smart, passionate and dedicated to their work. It was an extraordinary glympse into the safety monitoring system that goes on behind the scenes, every day, to help keep us safe. Science at its best!