Hazel Davidson discusses the increasingly stringent EU and UK legislation which has led to changes in requirements for the environmental analysis of water
The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) has had a major impact on water monitoring, with the objective that all river basin management systems should achieve ‘good’ status by 2015. This has generated various daughter directives and guidelines, such as Guidance on Surface Water Chemical Monitoring under the WFD (2009), and The EC Environmental Objectives (Groundwater) Regulations, published in 2010.
The Environment Agency also published the updated version (2006) of Hydrogeological Risk Assessments for Landfills and the Derivation of Groundwater Control Levels and Compliance Limits, which replaces the 2003 version, and includes a tiered approach to risk assessment.
Operator Monitoring Assessment (OMA) was introduced by the EA in 2010, whereby industrial companies are now responsible for monitoring their own effluent, and ensuring this complies with discharge consent limits set by the EA. This can be undertaken with automated in-line monitors (which need to be MCERTS accredited), or samples can be sent to analytical laboratories for testing.
The above documents include listings of the priority pollutants and recommended limits of detection, which may be difficult for laboratories to achieve, particularly with very contaminated matrices. Methods such as GCMS/MS or HPLC/MS are used to reach these very low limits, and may also require larger sample volumes to be supplied. In the current economic climate, it may be difficult for smaller laboratories to obtain funding for the purchase of these very expensive instruments. This may cause an increased polarisation of the industry, with some laboratories offering more routine analysis, and other laboratories specialising in the high-tech, non-routine, more expensive analyses.
A policy statement issued in 2009 from UKAS (the organisation responsible for auditing and accrediting laboratories) now requires laboratories to highlight deviating samples in their reports. These are samples which are either not sampled correctly or experience analytical problems, for example:
• No separate volatile container supplied;
• Headspace present in volatile or BOD container;
• No preserved bottles supplied;
• Holding time exceeded;
• Temperature exceeded;
• No sampling date supplied (mandatory for MCERTS);
• AQC failed during run and sample cannot be repeated;
• Deviation from method, e.g. limited sample size or matrix issues.
The onus is now on the consultant/contractor to ensure samples are taken correctly, because non-conforming samples may invalidate the integrity of the data.
The issue of failed holding times causes significant problems for laboratories and their clients; for many years the USEPA holding times were used, but more recent standards (ISO18512 for soils and 5667 for waters) give different holding times, including 24 hours for some parameters. Meeting this is not possible for most laboratories, because samples are usually delivered the day after sampling. UKAS has therefore recommended laboratories should perform their own stability trials across a range of typical matrices to prove that samples are stable for longer, if stored correctly. This has led to the situation of different laboratories quoting different holding times for the same parameter, causing confusion within the industry. The Laboratories Working Group at the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) is in correspondence with the EA and UKAS to resolve this situation, and UKAS are expected to publish a Technical Policy Statement within the next few weeks.
MCERTS is the Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme, and has existed for air, soils, and monitoring instruments for a number of years. Methods are accredited individually, on a range of matrices, and it is also important to ensure the scope of accredited testing covers a wide range of parameters – some laboratories are only accredited for a very small number of tests. MCERTS for waters came into effect in July 2010, but only for urban waste waters (UWW – water treatment, sewage, some trade effluents). It is expected that the EA will extend this to more trade effluents in 2012, and possibly other environmental waters at a later date, although current political strategies may delay this.
One important part of this standard is that organisations performing the sampling of these waters must be accredited to ISO 17025 for sampling, to ensure the procedures are conducted in a controlled and documented manner.
Electronic data handling has probably seen the most significant changes over the last few years, and is likely to continue development. All laboratories now offer some kind of electronic reporting, and the requirement for hard copy reports has dwindled to miniscule numbers. However, it is not sufficient to just offer standard Excel, as consultants and contractors require a variety of formats, and do not want to spend time manipulating data to fit in with their reports. Examples of these are AGS, EQuiS and National Grid format, plus a standard csv file, as well as client specific formats. It should be stressed that offering a pdf report is not an electronic data deliverable, because it cannot be manipulated.
Currently, many consultants and contractors use AGS v.3.1, but v.4 was released in May 2009, which has much greater functionality. Laboratories should now be working to offer this format to their clients.
The demand for additional functionality has increased significantly, including:
• Data available 24/7 in real time;
• Reporting individual or multiple batches;
• Archiving data;
• Setting project specific acceptance values and automated flagging if these are exceeded;
• Numerous reporting formats;
• Access through website – no specific software needed.
Self-scheduling on-site over the internet will be the next major expansion in the coming years. Site engineers can log sample data and schedule tests via a hand held PDA or laptop (as long as there is an internet connection). The container is scanned with a barcode reader, the information typed in, and sent. This means the samples are registered at the laboratory before they arrive, and can then be passed straight into the testing area, with no delays for logging in and scheduling. This can save 1-2 days (or longer) on the turnaround/holding times, and illegible Chain of Custody sheets will be a thing of the past. Currently, only 25-30% of sample batches are received with correctly completed Chain of Custody sheets, and this causes significant delays to sample processing.
Increasing legislative requirements and a reduction in construction projects, have led to increased competition between laboratories, with contractors and consultants putting pressure on pricing, so any advantage a laboratory can offer is vital. Improvements to sample handling/preparation, validation of new methods to achieve lower detection limits, and shorter turnaround times with improved data handling can all assist in providing a better service to the client. Laboratories that can offer additional services, such as electronic reporting, may gain an advantage, but there is no substitute for good customer service and ease of access to technical support, and this will continue to be an important requirement in the future.
Hazel Davidson, Technical Marketing Manager for Derwentside Environmental Testing Services
WWEM 2012 Conference – entitled ‘Advances in Measurements in Environmental Laboratories’ – will take place in Telford on 7 and 8th November. There will be two Conferences; one covering laboratory analysis and another covering process monitoring. Both have the approval of The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management and can therefore contribute to delegates’ CPD.
The laboratory conference is being organised by the British Measurement and Testing Association (BMTA), which represents the interests of over 400 UKAS accredited laboratories, and will include speakers from UKAS, FERA, water companies and commercial laboratories.
Further information on the other speakers at WWEM 2012 is available at www.wwem.uk.com