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OWML: About Us


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Ohio Water Microbiology Laboratory (OWML) addresses water-related public-health concerns for Ohio and the rest of the Nation. The OWML works with government agencies, academic institutions, and other partners to study the quality of national, state, and local water resources. The OWML is involved in investigations of processes that affect microorganisms in the environment and testing of new methods to improve detection and interpretation of microbiological presence in water.

micro labThe OWML is located in the USGS Columbus, Ohio office and consists of a 1,000-ft2 main laboratory area (“main lab”), a 300-ft2 restricted-use area (“back lab”), a 450-ft2 ancillary-use area (“side lab”), and approximately 300 ft2 of general use area in the office warehouse. The main lab is used for sample login and preparation, media and reagent preparation, membrane filtration, incubation, and culture maintenance. Two biosafety cabinets, a fume hood, and four centrifuges are located in the main lab. The back lab contains a laminar-flow hood, equipment for maintaining cell-culture lines, a microplate reader for ELISA, and a dead-air box for reagent preparation for molecular methods. The side lab contains a microscopy room (with a microscope with epifluorescence capability), three PCR thermal cyclers (including a real-time Applied Biosystems Model 7500), small autoclaves, and supply cabinets. The warehouse contains a large autoclave, automatic dishwasher, deionized water source, and dishwashing stations. The OWML currently operates with four refrigeration units, three –20°C freezers, two –70C freezers, five incubators, five water baths, three autoclaves, and dissecting and fluorescence microscopes. Laboratory design and quality assurance are appropriate for proper performance of analyses. This includes water purification, air supply, and vacuum source. In the event of a power outage or equipment failure, the OWML is equipped with a notification system and backup generators to ensure that temperatures in all equipment remain consistent.

A laboratory information management system (LIMS) is being used by the OWML to store sample login information, sample results, and associated quality control results. This information is backed up daily and a copy of the information is stored at an off-site location. The LIMS is used to store QA/QC records: maintenance and calibration of laboratory equipment, maintenance of microbiological stock cultures and controls, and laboratory method QA/QC results. The LIMS has been customized to produce reports of results that can be easily uploaded into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS).


The OWML provides microbiological data of public-health significance from surface waters, ground waters, and sediments for a variety of study objectives. The goals of the OWML are to:

  • provide quality microbiological analytical services to USGS projects for the analysis of environmental samples for bacterial indicators, coliphage, enteric viruses, and protozoa.
  • work with other government agencies, academic institutions, and public utilities to develop and (or) test methods for detection or enumeration of microorganisms of public-health significance in the environment.
  • provide assistance to other USGS employees for project planning and training related to microorganisms of public-health significance.
  • continually develop projects and program that enhance our understanding of the processes that affect microorganisms in the environment.