“Marine Chemist Service is an environmental and safety corporation that samples and tests, as well as inspects and instructs, areas ranging from asbestos, lead and other toxic metals, mold and confined spaces, such as fuel tanks,” explains Robbie Walker, president and an NFPA Certified Marine Chemist and instructor. “Our company has been in business since 1966. We served local shipyards initially, keeping workers safe from fires and explosions. Over time, the company diversified into industrial hygiene and built several laboratories to support that effort in analyzing samples for asbestos and heavy metals, such as lead in paint. In the last few years, the laboratory expanded and currently tests for indoor air quality and concerns regarding toxic mold.”
Marine Chemist Service takes on a wide variety of tasks. Included are testing air in homes and buildings for mold and asbestos contamination, monitoring work practices to ensure worker and public safety during projects involving hazardous materials, testing paint and building materials for asbestos and heavy metals prior to renovation or demolition projects and creating protocols for the safe handling of hazardous materials.
The company’s list of clients is expansive and diverse. “Our customers are mostly concerned with asbestos in buildings, lead in drinking water and paint, mold contamination and hazardous material disposal,” Walker says. “Some of our laboratory customers are homeowners, realtors, apartment managers, schools, colleges and universities, shipyards, ship repair companies, local governments and local hospitals.”
The company team knows how critical this work truly is. “Our work is important, as we are helping homeowners identify issues with indoor air quality. For example, when mold spores get concentrated indoors, they may cause allergy and other health issues in addition to damages to building surfaces,” Walker says. “Around the Hampton Roads area, storms and floods are frequent occurrences. In addition, homes and buildings are closed systems for air circulation through HVAC systems. Mold growth starts with water and high moisture atmospheres, coupled with availability of organic matter. Drywall contains paper, which is organic and acts as substrates for mold growth.”
There are many employees who carry out this important work. One is Dr. Bharati Lakshmi, laboratory director, who joined the company 20 years ago. “I am responsible for the overall operation of the environmental and industrial hygiene laboratory. I maintain the laboratory quality system and all required elements for lab credentials. I strive to help customers resolve issues related to indoor air quality and EPA and OSHA regulations and assist in sampling protocols to assess the issues. I also train new analysts in their respective duties,” Lakshmi says.
Lakshmi says no day looks the same for her and the team while working in the lab. “Although we have seen thousands of samples, we get excited to see mold spores or asbestos or any factor that indicates the cause of a problem the customer is facing. It is the investigative aspect of lab analysis in detecting and connecting mold spores identified in a sample taken in a room and be able to explain what may have caused the problems,” Lakshmi says.
Being able to help people solve their issues is not only satisfying for the team but also helps create a relationship with their clients. “Most of our customers are long lasting, especially local schools, hospitals and city governments. They hire us to investigate and recommend actions regarding mold, asbestos or lead issues,” Walker says. “Schools also depend on us, especially during summer vacation and just before school reopening for any issues with mold generally caused by water and humidity issues. Local hospitals call on us during any issues due to water damage caused by floods.”
Marine Chemist Service makes sure to give back to the community by working with Mariners’ Museum. “We provided complimentary services to Mariners’ Museum with its Monitor-Merrimac project. Our laboratory analyzed the solutions in which the ship parts were cleaned for metals, such as lead and copper. We provide confined space training for them,” Walker says of the company’s work with the community.
Marine Chemist Service also helps train people outside of its company to be able to run tests. The training is accomplished in-person in the Newport News and Norfolk offices, as well as offsite at client locations in the United States, including New York and Wisconsin, and abroad in Japan.
When Walker isn’t busy working to help keep the Hampton Roads area safe, he enjoys going for walks, photographing mushrooms and wildflowers, gardening and reading.
Marine Chemist Service is dedicated to ensuring the area is safe and providing answers to train others to do similar work.
TO THE POINT:
Marine Chemist Service
Address: 11850 Tug Boat Ln., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Robbie Walker, president