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Becoming a pollen counter not hard

Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Setting up a pollen-testing site on the Kenai Peninsula is easier than it sounds.

Bekah Waltuch, an environmental scientist and laboratory analyst for White Environmental Consulting, said members of her company took a class in Massachusetts and passed a test administered by the National Allergy Bureau to become certified pollen counters.

“(Classes) can range in length from two- to five-day classes,” Waltuch said. The test consisted of 75 multiple choice questions complete with pictures and diagrams. They also had to count and identify pollen on a microscope slide.

“We read the slide and write down what we see and send our results back to them and they’ll grade it,” she said.

She said the certification process took approximately three and a half months from the time they took the class to the time NAB declared them certified. The only major expenses were the plane tickets to Boston.

“(NAB) provides all the postage for slides,” Waltuch said.

As for the actual pollen-testing equipment, Waltuch said the cost was $4,000.

“The equipment is vintage 1950s,” she said. “It’s useful and it works.”

The only downside to the testing process, Waltuch said, is the amount of time it took for NAB to send them the microscope slides. While it took White Environmental till April to be certified, Waltuch said the waiting time could be a period of six months.

Larry Taylor, environmental engineer for the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services, said the benefits of having a local testing site outweigh any inconvenience.

“One person with an asthmatic child wrote to us when we started this service, and said it was much easier for them to control their child’s medication,” he said. “So they wouldn’t be impacted by high pollen levels, it made their lives a whole lot easier.”

For more information visit the National Allergy Bureau’s Web site at http://www.aaaai.org/nab/index.cfm?p=become_a_counter.

— Jessica Cejnar



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