Placer County Closing Public Health Lab, Samples to be Tested in Sacramento

AUBURN -- Public health labs, no matter where they are, are a valuable tool for public health officials, detecting diseases like West Nile virus, waterborne bacteria and harmful bacteria in food.

The Placer County Public Health Lab serves those functions for Sutter, Yuba and Nevada Counties as well.

But with private labs and new technology, testing dropped from 35 thousand samples a year just 35 hundred in the last 20 years...

Closing the aging lab will be a windfall for the county.

"It would save, at the minimum, $800,000," Placer County Board of Supervisors Chair Jim Holmes said. "Probably closer to $2 million."

Samples will now be sent to the larger Sacramento Public Health Lab for processing.

It was a reluctant vote by supervisors who have targeted the savings rather than putting it into the general fund.

"That money is going to go into programs for the homeless, programs to people with addiction and mental illness, so it goes right back into human services," Holmes said.

Employees at the lab say they are sad to see it close down. Some have worked there for 20 years.

One said that regular customers have their water tested here because they trust them more than private labs. Nevada County Sheriff's volunteers were delivering samples for testing on Thursday, possibly connected to a criminal case. They will eventually have to transport samples to Sacramento, too.

There is a worry that testing for fast spreading infectious diseases will be slowed, but Holmes said couriers will make door to door runs to the Sacramento Lab

"Those kinds of cases will be taking top priority. It's a concern, but I think we've got it pretty well handled," Holmes told FOX40.

With extended hours, some believe the Sacramento lab will be faster and more efficient. Meanwhile, the county is trying to find spots for the seven lab workers who will be laid off.