Sampling throughout Finland
02 June 2015, Environmental Technologies, SYKE
Anneli Joutti, Marja Luotola (SYKE):
In their work, environmental sampling personnel get to spend a lot of time navigating woodlands and water bodies. The work is solitary and requires the spirit of a woodsman. The tasks must be completed regardless of the weather. The efforts of environmental samplers are crucial as the accuracy of the data we receive on the state of our environment is dependent on their expertise. What is the work of an environmental sampler like throughout Finland from north to south? The following describes the duties of three certified samplers at regional ELY-centres (Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment).
The operating area of the ELY Centre of Lapland covers one third of the total Finnish territory. This means that one may need to travel hundreds of kilometres to conduct the tasks of a sampler. In addition to the collection of environmental samples, the work involves observation and taking measurements.
Martti Salminen is a sampler at the ELY Centre of Lapland. He has accumulated a wealth of anecdotes over the course of 40 years of sampling. Once, it so happened that Martti managed to ride his snowmobile for 20 kilometres at -30 °C before he noticed the absence of his sled. The sled and the researcher on it had come loose almost immediately after departure.
The work week begins as early as Friday with planning the next trip and packing the necessary gear. The work trips span hundreds of kilometres and last three to four days. Along the way, the sampler sleeps in cabins. The working conditions, sampling equipment, boats, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and other gear have developed and become more efficient. GPS devices make the work easier. An environmental sampler is also responsible for the hydrological measurements in Lapland and the installations of the automatic stations that provide them.
According to Martti Salminen, the best part of his job is that he can work independently and at his own pace. The duties involve plenty of risks and the working conditions are harsh. The weather can range from -35 °C and a metre of snow in winter to +30 °C in summer. With extensive experience, a sampler can observe changes in the nature of Lapland.
In the ELY Centre of North Ostrobothnia in Central Finland, working area may span for example from Kalajoki to Kuusamo further north. Juha Salonen is the environmental sampler for the area. He has handled his duties for 30 years and drives hundreds of kilometres every day. Even so, he is happy with his highly mobile job: “I’m an outdoorsman at heart.”
In central Finland a sampler takes samples in locations where sea areas have been dried to serve as fields. The samples are related to studying the effects that areas of acid sulphate soil have on water bodies. Salonen also collects samples from gold mines. “The environmental impact of mines is a hot topic right now.”
According to Juha, the worst risks in sampling are busy road traffic, slippery weather and back problems. However, he notes that occupational safety issues have been handled well. “On water, I always use a survival suit and stay clear of any unnecessary risks.”
At the ELY Centre for Uusimaa, a sampler collects samples in the Helsinki metropolitan area and its surroundings. Maija Lehtinen is nowadays a sampler and observer, but formerly worked as a laboratory assistant for nearly 30 years before deciding to try her hand at field work. An avid horse and dog enthusiast, Maija Lehtinen begins her day by walking her dogs. She takes off for her sample collection rounds at around eight and spends the entire day in the field.
In winter, unploughed roads, slippery terrain and low temperatures can be taxing. In Maija’s opinion, the worst obstacles to her tasks are storms and choppy waters. Maija Lehtinen points out that occupational safety is taken care of and professional expertise ensures success. She says the job is also suitable for women: “The work requires you to be in good physical condition but also helps you to maintain your fitness.”
The variety of the work and the opportunity to spend time in forest areas and on water is enjoyable according to Maija. “When you visit the same spots for years, you need nothing more than your senses to notice changes in the state of the environment. I catch myself wondering why a previously clear brook now smells so odd.”
Juha Salonen will continue his work at Ahma Insinöörit Oy
In Finland, environmental samplers can obtain a qualification through a personnel certification system. There are over 600 certified environmental samplers and observers in Finland. A third of them work in environmental administration and the rest are employed by consulting firms. The consulting firm Vahanen Environment Oy values certification. The company conducts surveys and analyses related to environmental contamination, environmental permits and planning. Project Manager, PhD (Microbiology) Milja Vepsäläinen appreciates the certification system as it provides operators in the field with unified operating methods. “We need harmonised criteria for sampling. If the procedures are organisation-specific, they are not comparable.”
PERSONNEL CERTIFICATION SYSTEM FOR SAMPLERS
• Finland implemented a certification system for collectors of environmental samples, observations and measurements some 15 years ago.
• The system is based on the international personnel certification standard ISO 17024. Since 2004, it has been certified by the FINAS Finnish Accreditation Service.
• The system is independent and voluntary.
• The samplers can specialise in the collection of vastly different samples, such as water, soil and waste samples, for example. They can also specialise in environmental measurement and observation, field work concerning hydrological monitoring, and noise measurement.
Anneli Joutti, Senior Scientist, the Laboratory of Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)
Tel. +358 40 724 3007
Marja Luotola, Director of the Laboratory of Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)
Tel. +358 40 569 4788