If I had to add number 22 to this list of the Absolute Worst Things in the World, I?m fairly certain I would add a picture of a soggy powder pillow from some field test kit. If not the pillow, then the lineup of at least a dozen kits that are required in addition to the 14+ sample bottles you have to fill up with groundwater to send to the lab.

I know you are probably thinking that I?m being a bit dramatic, that there are far worse things in life than a useless reagent packet (like the last little insufficient sliver of toilet paper stuck to the cardboard tube, or maybe even a lipstick stain on a coffee cup that you?ve been drinking from). But no, not for me.

Spending days upon days in the field, in all sorts of weather, trying to get little sprinkles of salt-like reagent powder out of teeny-tiny, foil, stamp-sized squares and into test kit vials became a bit of an annoyance, furthered by thoughts that these colorimetric tests really weren?t telling me that much other than if a specific metal, for example, was present in the groundwater or not. A qualitative test with an immediate result, yes! But quantitative?not so much. I could tell by the water?s odor if hydrogen sulfide was present in groundwater; $40 alka seltzer tablets and reagent paper weren?t telling me what I couldn?t already smell. Between minor differences in turbidity, differences of opinion between field technicians, and differences in lighting, indicating a particular concentration for colorimetric field test kits just seemed too subjective to me.

If you are required to use a field kit, and there?s no getting around it, I would recommend the use of Chemetrics over Hach. Both are pretty well known, so why Chemetrics? Because it helps you avoid the aforementioned #22 on my list of the Absolute Worst Thing in the World, that?s why. Chemetric tests include self-filling reagent ampoules, not those pillow packets, which are a snap (sad pun, I know), and all can be performed in about 2 minutes. Chemetrics touts the following benefits:

  1. Less labor intensive than other field test kits (true).
  2. No mixing, no measuring, no mess (yup).
  3. Fewer steps, fewer errors (word).
  4. Safer testing (perhaps true, but not a huge wow factor for me, given use of gloves during sample collection).

Field techs: what has your experience been working with field test kits? Are they helpful, or more of a pain? Has the data proved valuable for your site evaluations?

Environmental laboratories: what tests do you believe are best performed as field test kits, and what tests do you believe are best performed in the laboratory setting?
 


Written by: Karen Baer

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