The Nassau County health department, facing a state deadline, named a new head for the environmental section of its public health lab, which tests water, soil and air for contaminants.

Thomas Edwards will replace Maria Suarez-Alcivar as lead technical director of the environmental section. Suarez-Alcivar was in the post from February through March but did not wish to keep the job, department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said.

The job was held earlier by Rodger Silletti, who was the public health lab's director, heading both the communicable diseases and environmental labs, until he was laid off with five others in December. With Silletti's departure, no one had credentials to run the communicable diseases section, which tested for illnesses and sexually transmitted diseases. That is being handled by a state lab near Albany.

As a result, that part of the lab was closed at the end of February and no new lab director has been named.

But running the environmental section has fewer requirements. Laurain said Edwards has worked at the lab since July 1984 and has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master of science degree. In 2010, he worked as an organic chemist, earning $88,497.15.

"Thomas Edwards has decades of experience working at the Nassau County public health laboratory and we are confident he will do an outstanding job," she said.

Laurain would not say what plan the county has for handling routine communicable disease specimens, citing union grievances filed by Silletti. She said emergency specimens would be handled by the state's Wadsworth Laboratory outside Albany.

Silletti was one of six laid off from the 17-person lab as part of the county's effort to balance its budget.

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