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Safeguarding our water and food supply

Six alumni among environmental testing lab staff

By Kate Hartsel

Michael Bean
Michael Bean, president of Commercial Testing Laboratory Inc., stands at the entrance of an old bank vault that has been converted into an incubator used for the testing of wastewater. The company is housed in the former Bank of Colfax building.

In 1985 the city of Chippewa Falls began to see elevated nitrate levels in the groundwater supplying its east well field, which provides the city with approximately 60 percent of its water. By 1994, nitrate levels began to persistently exceed the federal safe drinking water standard of 10 parts per million. The incident made headline news in the Chippewa Valley and made people aware of the importance of laboratory testing to keep the environment safe.

Michael Bean, a 1971 UW-Eau Claire chemistry graduate, is very aware of the need for product and environmental testing to identify such problems as nitrate contamination. Bean is the president of Colfax-based Commercial Testing Laboratory Inc., which conducts environmental and other laboratory testing for groundwater and food contaminants along with other tests.

Founded in 1952 as Commercial Dairy Lab, the Commercial Testing Laboratory name came into being 20 years later. The company was originally a milk sample testing source for many dairy plants in west-central Wisconsin and was then primarily involved in the testing of dairy and meat products.

Bean joined the company in 1972 and helped diversify it to include the testing of environmental samples. Two years later the business expanded still further to include dry blending and packaging products under a private label. This led in 1994 to another sister company, CTL Foods Inc., which is a food manufacturer licensed by the Department of Agriculture.

Commercial Testing Laboratory grew rapidly from the 1970s through the 1990s. Today the company boasts a food laboratory, an environmental laboratory, a feed and forage lab, and a custom- designed compliance lab.

The Clean Water Act of the 1970s and resulting regulations led to more municipalities and individuals sending water samples to Commercial Testing Laboratory. The environmental lab tests sludge, groundwater, wastewater and drinking water.

During the 1980s the lab obtained Department of Natural Resources certification and in the 1990s became certified to test drinking water under category 18 of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Strictly regulated by the DNR, Commercial Testing Laboratory does analysis of nitrates, phosphorus, metals, biochemical oxygen demand and coliform bacteria and performs several other tests in water samples.

As the company’s markets expanded, the work force grew to 45, including five more UW-Eau Claire alumni: Teresa Killoren, Richard Hovland, Sandra Hazlewood, Linda Bollinger and Donna Sylte.

Killoren, who received a biology degree from UW-Eau Claire in 1996, is the environmental laboratory supervisor and is responsible for maintaining water testing certification, which is strictly governed by the DNR.

“Teresa can really step in and do most anything we need in the lab,” Bean said.
Killoren grew up in Sand Creek and never knew there was a lab so close to her. She worked for the DNR for two years and then applied for a lab tech position in 1997.

“I didn’t think I’d be here long,” Killoren said. “I thought I’d get some basic experience and move on, but I liked the work and liked the people and now I’ve been here going on 12 years.”

Hovland, who graduated with a biology degree from UW-Eau Claire in 1978, is the food laboratory supervisor. The food lab does bacterial analysis for pet-food ingredients, meat products, dry dairy products, environmental sanitation services and some organic products.

While the work he does is somewhat different from what he studied as an undergraduate, he said his experience at UW-Eau Claire did help him.

“I know I learned things quicker here and was hands-on in the lab faster because of my degree,” Hovland said.

Hovland is from Colfax and never expected to go to work for what he knew growing up as the dairy lab. He had aspirations to work for the DNR and had been working for a sporting goods wholesaler when a salesman for Commercial Testing Laboratory told him about a job opening at the lab. He quickly applied for it and was hired.

An employee since 1985, Hovland said he believes the reason people stay employed for so long at Commercial Testing Laboratory is due to a combination of factors.

“People who work here tend to be from the area or live close by and we all know each other,” he said. “Plus there’s a lot of flexibility in scheduling, which is appealing to people with children.”

Hazlewood was a biology major with a chemistry minor at UW-Eau Claire, graduating in 1981. She came to work at Commercial Testing Laboratory in 1994 as a laboratory technician. One of her responsibilities is analyzing food samples for fats, sugars, solids and proteins.

Hazlewood grew up in Colfax. After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, she went into the Army, where she served as an environmental health specialist for seven years. Later Hazlewood worked at Fort Wainwright’s Army hospital in Fairbanks, Alaska, for two years before moving back to Colfax.

“I really like my job, plus I live in Colfax and it is very convenient,” Hazlewood said.

Bollinger, who received a bachelor’s degree in communication arts from UW-Eau Claire in 1995, is director of resources and a partner of both Commercial Testing Laboratory Inc. and CTL Foods Inc. She was hired in 1998.

Bollinger said the laboratory offers many perks to its customers, like a crew of route drivers who drive within a 190-mile radius to pick up and bring back the samples the same day.

“We feel we’re able to go the extra mile to get results out to our customers because of our employees’ dedication and the diversity of their skills and talents,” Bollinger said. “Being a small company provides us more flexibility to work closer with our customers and offer the highest quality.”

Bollinger said that the manufacturing company, CTL Foods, blends and custom packages a variety of dry blends.

“We are so proud of our own brand of Soda Fountain Malted Milk Powder, which has been sold for over 35 years,” Bollinger said. “CTL Foods has been selling our malt to major ice cream companies, restaurants, retail and, just recently, through our Web site.”

Sylte is a relative newcomer to Commercial Testing Laboratory. She was hired in 2006 as a data entry clerk. Sylte also grew up in Colfax and lives in the area. She graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1969 with a major in social science and a minor in library science. She worked for 36 years as a junior and senior high school library media specialist for the Glenwood City School District. After retiring she grew bored, applied for the job at Commercial Testing Laboratory and was hired.

The skills these employees brought with them, particularly biology, chemistry and mathematical skills, made them key players at the company, Bean said.

“I didn’t consciously hire anyone because they were UW-Eau Claire grads, but I did hire them because they had the educational qualifications needed, and I’m really fortunate that they came our way,” he said.

Kate Hartsel is a writer for the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau.

 

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