As part of their work identifying and monitoring for environmental contaminants in water, air, soil, food and manufactured products, environmental health laboratories are an essential part of responding to emergencies involving those elements.
When environmental emergencies arise—chemical spills, floods and other natural disasters, intentional foodborne outbreaks or contaminated consumer products—laboratories conduct testing to identify the contaminants and help assess the damages.
If there is a wide-spread exposure or contamination, environmental health laboratories may rely on wider networks of laboratories and other public health partners for help.
Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats
Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats (LRN-C), the chemical component of the
Laboratory Response Network, was established in 1999 to prepare and respond to chemical threats.
The LRN-C links 54
state and local public health laboratories across the US and its territories. These laboratories operate at three levels that indicate their ability to perform various functions during emergency events:
Level 3 laboratories work with hospitals and first responders to collect, package and ship human samples to other laboratories for confirmatory testing.
Level 2 laboratories test the samples referred from Level 3 laboratories for toxic chemicals and metals.
Level 1 laboratories are able to test chemical warfare agents and to help the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) test human samples during large-scale emergencies
LRN-C Technical Meeting
The LRN-C laboratories meet annually to discuss technical issues, the proficiency testing (PT) program, technology, and methods. The LRN-C Technical Meeting is traditionally convened in-person in the Spring and Fall. APHL returned to in-person meetings in Fall 2022 in East Lansing, Michigan, after three years of virtual meetings due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
The Spring 2023 meeting has a theme of 'Community Partnerships for All-Hazards Preparedness' and will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 25-27, 2023. The meeting serves as a three-day training opportunity for LRN-C scientists and includes presentations from local, state, regional and national LRN-C programs and partners. Member laboratories are encouraged to join the APHL LRN-C ColLABorate Community of Practice site to learn more about, and register for, the upcoming meeting. Meeting capacity is 125 attendees.
APHL will offer travel awards to the Spring 2023 meeting. Applications must be received by February 24, 2023.
Please note that travel award priority is given to Level 2 laboratories since Level 1 laboratories have funding built into their budgets.
Environmental Response Laboratory Network and Water Laboratory Alliance
Environmental Response Laboratory Network (ERLN), administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Emergency, connects laboratories during an emergency. The ERLN also helps laboratories to prepare for an emergency, respond to environmental contamination and clean up a site to prevent future exposure.
The drinking water arm of ERLN, the
Water Laboratory Alliance, specifically provides tools and resources to ensure drinking water laboratories can connect to each other for additional testing capability or capacity needs.
Food Emergency Response Network
Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) helps US laboratories better detect and respond to foodborne outbreaks caused by bioterrorism.
Overseen by the
US Department of Health and Human Services,
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
US Department of Agriculture, and the
Food Safety and Inspection Service, FERN is governed by four principals: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Its mission is to analyze food samples involved in threats, respond to contamination and food related terrorist events, respond to nationwide food emergencies and monitor possible situations.
Public health laboratory analysis is critical to monitoring and prevention of radiological terrorism. Public health laboratories analyze clinical and environmental samples for radiochemicals and radiological contaminants, monitor the effects of radiation exposure and confirm radiation sickness or genetic mutation.
APHL is currently tackling the radiochemistry workforce shortage through the radiochemistry workgroup. If you are interested in joining the workgroup, please email
To learn more about the LRN-C or APHL's food chemistry efforts, email Jennifer Liebreich, manager, Environmental Health.
To learn more about ERLN and radiological responses, email
Sarah Wright, manager, Environmental Laboratories.