WEF Discussion Forums
Laboratory Management and Technical Issues
How low can you go?
Attached is a list of compounds that the State of Oregon is wanting to test for. I am getting the feeling that some of the proposed levels are lower than most good environmental labs can go. So, can the list be run at the proposed levels? Any thoughts on sampling?
Looks like nobody is interested in replying, Mark. I'm sure it isn't because they aren't interested, but rather because there is no GOOD answer.
The simple answer is that "Yes...the list can be run at the proposed levels." And you are right that a lot of good labs can't run them at those levels because they don't have the right equipment. But a lot of the big commercial labs have the equipment, supplies, and staff to run them at the levels listed, and you will probably have to send your samples to one of those labs. The lab will tell you how much sample they need.
Shop around. Cheap sometimes means poor quality, and expensive doesn't assure good data, but it sure makes it more likely. Of course, you will have to use an accredited lab (as they all are in Oregon) and you should insist on a data pack that includes the results of quality control tests. Contact DEQ for help in choosing a lab.
Turns out the only lab to run the stuff is the State DEQ. Cost is about $7,000, don't think that includes sample bottle prep or shipping.
Mark, I don't doubt that somebody told you only DEQ can run the tests at those low levels, but I do doubt that is is true. If it IS true, it would be a flagrant conflict of interest. The state would be telling you that "the tests must be run, and by the way, DEQ has the only lab that can do them, and it's going to cost you $7000." I guess that's one way to balance the budget!
Have you contacted Apex Labs (503) 718-2323, CH2M Hill (541) 768-3111, or Test America (503) 906-9223?
Mark & Perry,
I sat on the state DEQ methods technical workgroup tasked with coming up with methods and detection limits for the 118 toxics on the list. Two of the largest commercial labs in the country were represented, and I was in contact with a third, very large lab network and with a specialty lab in California that had done work for a recent EPA study on emerging contaminants in surface impoundments used for drinking water. All four commercial labs no bid the work for various business reasons, but mostly to do with return on investment for the project (52 wastewater authorities, all sampled during the summer of 2010).
Because a lot was riding on the results, the technical workgroup felt that a single lab would be best, rather than having 52 municipalities each sending 6-10 containers out to specialty labs all over the country, with perhaps multiple labs doing the same analysis. The DEQ did not "force" its lab onto the project. The idea came up during the workgroup discussions, which included folks from USGS, NCASI, Oregon ACWA, etc.
From my past experience managing analytical programs for very large superfund projects, I was painfully aware of the problems inherent with sample splitting, lab comparability, etc., so I was in favor of the idea. The organics lab manager at DEQ is very well known to me: during his tenure at a NW commecial lab, he did significant method development to be able to use EPA drinking water methods for low level work on urban stormwater for our UIC permit. Also, the state DEQ is now in a brand new lab and has several pieces of equipment well-suited for work on emerging contaminants. I personally have no concerns with any kind of conflict of interest. I know personally many of the DEQ lab staff and can vouch for their integrity. Given these considerations and the four "no-bids," the choice was not a hard one to make.
Check out the Oct/Nov issue of WEF's Laboratory Solutions for a very good summary of how all of this came about and where the whole effort is going. And sorry for not "naming names." As is this a wide-open forum, I figured it would be best to keep things anonymous.
I just realized that all the details are on the SB737 page of the Oregon DEQ web site. Scroll down for the three workgroups: toxics list, methods, and sampling:
Thanks for your detailed insight on the situation, Chuck. The "conflict of interest" I spoke of did not involve the quality or integrity of the lab work, but rather the spectre of a tax-funded lab competing with private enterprise. That doesn't sound ethical to me and I would imagine it is unlawful in many states including my own. It is probably best for this "technical" discussion group to avoid legalities and politics, so I'll just cool my heels on the subject!
You're correct about the public/private lab problem. Back in my commercial lab days, I used to call it GUN control (Government-Universities-Nonprofits). However, my understanding is that if the work goes as planned, it will be via some sort of blanket IGA. It's also my understanding that IGAs are exempt from the federal "anti-competitive" law (which I think was co-authored by Oregon's own Senator Mark Hatfield).
In any case, things are still in flux, so who knows how all of this will turn out?
BTW: I'll be giving a short talk on all of this from an analytical perspective at the upcoming PNCWA Short School at Clackamas Community College this coming March.
Thanks, Chuck! Good luck with your presentation. Stick to your GUNs!