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ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: Chad Cooper of PDC Laboratories Inc. services area municipalities to test, analyze and report the state of their water.
ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: Chad Cooper of PDC Laboratories Inc. services area municipalities to test, analyze and report the state of their water.

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There’s a small lab at the west end of Sunset Street with some very large responsibilities.

Its seven employees work in two separate rooms, testing, analyzing and reporting the health of drinking water, stormwater, wastewater and soil, too.

Their studies are permit-driven by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Mostly, we work for municipalities,” says Chad Cooper, who manages the operations of PDC Laboratories Inc.

The lab serves such cities as Branson and Ozark, as well as City Utilities of Springfield and Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., and the work produced roughly $600,000 in revenue last year.

Ground level
The company was founded about 385 miles away, in the early 1920s, by a man named John Coulter.

PDC Labs began as a landfill and waste disposal company in Peoria, Illinois. As the company grew, Cooper says the demand for monitoring groundwater, as well as waste characterization, grew, too. Its first lab was onsite at a Peoria landfill.

In the last 30 years, PDC has grown into a regional operation with about 100 employees and nearly $10 million in companywide revenue.

Family-owned by Coulter Cos. Inc., it now has offices in three more markets: St. Louis, McHenry, Illinois, and the one at 1805 W. Sunset St.

“We have a wet chemistry lab here where we run tests like total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand,” Cooper says.

In laymen’s terms, total suspended solids are solids in water large enough to be trapped in a filter. High concentrations of suspended solids can cause problems for aquatic life. And biochemical oxygen demand is the amount of dissolved oxygen that has to be present in water for microorganisms to decompose organic matter. It can be used as a measure of the degree of pollution.

Bill Nye the Science Guy would be proud of this crew.

Testing both elements, Cooper says, is vital to determining and ensuring the health of city water.

Cooper says most tests run in the wet lab are completed within 24 to 48 hours.

“Our tests can be time or temperature sensitive,” says Daniel Hedrick, director of environmental affairs for City Utilities. “They’re local, so our biggest saving is that we can take a sample and get it over there that same day.”

Cooper estimates CU and other clients can save up to $100 a week without having to ship samples to larger, national labs.

“We’ve worked with them for five or six years,” Hedrick says. “They’re great in terms of quality data. That’s vital to us to have good data to make sure of the results we are getting.”

Other companies in the space locally include Consulting Analytical Services Inc. in Springfield and MMET Inc. in Strafford. Both also test wastewater and drinking water.

Nontraditional growth
A toxicity lab at PDC also tests organisms.

“We expose them to various dilutions of a client’s wastewater to determine the toxicity on the organism,” Cooper says.

Cooper believes testing wastewater is among the most important. The team tests wastewater weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on the size of the municipality.

“What people don’t realize is that water coming out of wastewater treatment plants is flowing directly back into our lakes and streams,” he says. “In my mind, that’s the largest volume of water we’re testing, so I think it’s the most important, environmentally.”

PDC hired Cooper 10 years ago when the Springfield office was only a service center for the company’s larger operations. It started out with just two employees.

With the variety of services, Cooper says PDC’s Springfield revenue increased about 20 percent last year.

“We are on target to do $670,000 in 2017,” Cooper said. “We will likely beat this figure as we have seen a substantial growth from new clients, and we also have several large projects starting in the third and fourth quarter.”

However, growth doesn’t come the way it does for most other companies. Rather than by adding clients, PDC is increasingly in demand with each new environmental regulation.

According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, water permits typically have a five-year cycle, and as they expire, redrafts and modifications are needed.

“You don’t get new municipalities,” Cooper says. “The amount of clients never increases, but the types of tests and the volume of tests they have to run has increased over the years.”

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