Laboratories of Expertise in Aquatic Chemical Analysis: Providing Strong Scientific Support
A contaminant spill in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A team of scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is dispatched to the site to sample the water and assess the potential threat to human health and water resources. The samples undergo sophisticated analyses designed to detect the concentrations of the spilled contaminants.
The hypothetical example above illustrates one of DFO's missions: ensuring the protection of Canada's aquatic environment. To fulfill that mission, DFO needs state-of-the-art instruments in order to perform detailed scientific analyses. To ensure that both the equipment and the expertise are managed properly, DFO founded the Laboratories of Expertise in Aquatic Chemical Analysis (LEACA).
Analytical facilities for the study of metals and other inorganic compounds. Photo credit: DFO–Quebec Region
DFO scientists have been making use of the services of LEACA since 2007. They have access to two laboratories, located in DFO ocean research centres at opposite ends of the country: in the west, the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia, and in the east, the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec. The laboratories have teams of five and seven experts respectively.
Two models of instruments dedicated to inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Photo credit: DFO–Quebec Region
Although the laboratories offer similar services, they each have their own specialty, according to Serge Gosselin, National Director of LEACA, who is based in Mont-Joli. The Pacific Region laboratory specializes in high-resolution organic chemical analysis, testing for contaminants such as dioxins, furans, PCBs and PBDEs (flame retardants). The Quebec Region laboratory specializes in inorganic chemical analysis, testing for metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury, and in low-resolution organic chemistry. DFO scientists turn to LEACA for various needs and in various situations, such as measuring mercury levels in the organs of fish or marine mammals. DFO also relies on LEACA for help in more widely reported or high-profile events, such as the sinking and raising of the Irving Whale in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island. LEACA scientists conducted analyses in the area in which the famous barge had lain for close to 30 years in order to monitor the presence of petroleum contaminants and PCBs and confirm that the marine environment was gradually recovering.
Automated sample purification system, used to eliminate impurities in order to facilitate organic pollutant analysis, used in both IOB and MIL laboratories. Photo credit: DFO–Quebec Region
At LEACA, contaminants in aquatic environments are measured, identified and monitored to allow DFO scientists to understand their evolution and dispersion and how they change ecosystems, and to answer questions such as whether contaminants weaken marine organisms, or whether certain species are more sensitive than others. Over the years, LEACA will build a collection of analyses and be able to produce results that provide keys to a better understanding of the behaviour of contaminants in aquatic environments.
By bringing together the necessary equipment, human resources and chemistry protocols in these two laboratories, DFO has helped create and develop very useful expertise, benefiting not only DFO scientists, but also ultimately Canada's entire aquatic ecosystem, by ensuring its continued existence for the benefit of current and future generations.
High-resolution gas chromatography-mass spectrometry system used for ultra-trace analysis of organic pollutants in environmental samples. Photo credit: DFO-Pacific Region
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