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 Biannual Technical Meeting
Twice a year, the LRN-C laboratories meet to discuss technical issues, the proficiency testing (PT) program, technology, and methods. The LRN-C Biannual Technical Meeting is traditionally convened in-person in the Spring and Fall. However, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, these meetings are temporarily being convened virtually. Despite this challenge, the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 LRN-C Biannual Technical Meetings were well attended. The virtual conference platform provided a forum for member laboratories to discuss pressing concerns and laboratory processes.
APHL will return to convening in-person LRN-C Biannual Technical Meetings when it is safe to do so. Pending funding availability, APHL will reinstate the provision of travel awards. Please note that travel award priority is given to Level 2 laboratories since Level 1 laboratories have funding built into their budgets. Meeting and travel award announcements are posted to the LRN-C Toolkit in the months prior to scheduled meetings.
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.
E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury
Close collaboration between
APHL member laboratories,
FDA and the
Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) helped the public health community make great strides in identifying chemical agents associated with the E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) multi-state outbreak. The Lung Injury Response Laboratory Working Group, a team of researchers from these organizations, has observed an association between Vitamin E Acetate contaminants in vape product samples and EVALI.
Learn more about APHL's EVALI response:
EVALI Community of Practice
APHL facilitates an EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury) Community of Practice (CoP) comprised of government laboratories and public health partners. The CoP provides a forum for addressing cross-cutting issues and sharing relevant information with the community.
During the height of the outbreak, APHL convened bi-weekly EVALI teleconference calls. Subject matter experts were often invited to present on a variety of topics of interest to the community. As EVALI incidence dropped, so did the frequency of EVALI CoP teleconference calls. EVALI CoP teleconference calls are suspended until further notice, but the online community remains.
Those interested in joining the Community of Practice should send an email to
email@example.com with "EVALI CoP" in the subject line.
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, FERN and the EVALI response, email
Jennifer Liebreich, manager, Environmental Health.
To learn more about ERLN and radiological responses, email
Sarah Wright, manager, Environmental Laboratories.