Story by Suzanne Featherston
Mining companies rely on independent parties for environmental testing and analysis to ensure operations meet government regulations and safety standards.
In Nevada, one such support company is Western Environmental Testing Laboratory, or WETLAB.
The company started in 2002 when environmental scientist Michelle Sherven purchased a lab that was going out of business in the Sparks area. Within a few years, WETLAB moved into a state-of-the-art headquarters facility in Sparks, and expanded to Elko and later to Las Vegas.
WETLAB provides organic and inorganic microbiology testing and is certified under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The lab’s certifications qualify it to run more than 60 tests. Most of WETLAB’s work involves analysis on water quality issues pertaining to soils, lakes and river systems, serving Nevada, California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
The mining industry in Nevada avails WETLAB of services such as water and soil testing.
“We are strictly on the environmental side,” said Nick Ross, WETLABS operations manager. “We service a lot of mining clients in their needs throughout the state.”
Results of water testing can help the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection determine a project’s eligibility for a water pollution control permit, or help a mine maintain a safe potable water system. WETLAB test soils when spills occur and to assist with mine reclamation.
Mines “are very environmentally conscious,” Ross said, “so during their exploration and mining operations, they are always looking for ways that they can perform the work that they are doing when extracting the precious metals [responsibly], and when they are completed with the mining efforts, they are able to reclaim the land to basically make it like they have never touched it. We have aided in some of those projects.”
Outside the mining industry, WETLAB works on civil projects including a handful of wastewater treatment plant expansions in urban areas experiencing population growth. WETLAB tests samples before and after expansion to help operators ensure they’re meeting the environmental regulations.
“We are performing a small piece of, ‘Yes, everything looks good pre-and post-expansion,’ ” Ross said.
WETLAB, like other laboratories, must follow Environmental Protection Agency regulations and use standard methodologies and equipment for testing. Because that levels the playing field among labs, WETLAB tries to stand out by taking on challenging projects.
“I’m extremely interested in understanding and learning about the people and projects that my lab gets involved in, which is why WETLAB has become the go-to lab for special projects that other labs are not equipped to handle,” Sherven states on the company website.
Ross said they succeed by partnering with their clients to come up with the best test work and best program to help achieve their testing goals.
“When a client presents us with something that that I would deem out of the box, we don’t like to say no. We like to go down that road of ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes,’ until there is a roadblock — whether it is not scientifically sound or not feasible from a scientific standpoint or is just something that won’t be possible due to the technology available,” Ross said. “We are open to anything until it is just impossible.
In Elko, offering quality service means offering couriers with drivers who have taken Mine Safety and Health Administration and site-specific training. It might also mean keeping the Elko lab open outside of traditional business hours to accommodate a mine employee dropping off samples.
The Elko lab employs seven people who are part of WETLAB’s total team of 46. ￼