Environmental Testing for Industry Operator: A Guide


Industry operators throughout the world are faced with ever changing environmental regulations. Operations personnel and environmental manager are at the forefront in implementing these regulations in their respective companies. The most perplexing components of the most regulations are the environmental testing requirements set by regulatory agencies for all type of waste products released into the environment. These regulations indicate the contaminants to be tested and the limits not to be exceeded. Unfortunately, for the operator there is usually little technical guidance available to clearly answer the basic questions that most operations personnel ask; why test, what to test, when to test, where to sample, and how to sample. This paper is intended to serve as a guide to assist industry operators in answering these questions. The objective is to bring together the major environmental testing components into a logical and understandable framework.

Why Test?

The answer to this question is determined by the objectives to be met. In most cases environmental testing  is used to meet specific regulations. In other cases, the objectives are to address a solution to specific environmental problem. The parameters to be tested, the methods to be used, detection limits, and the level quality assurance/quality control required are determined by the objectives of the project. Thus, the answer to ”Why” becomes the basis for all sampling, analytical testing, interpretation and reporting.

What to Test?

Once the objectives of the testing re clearly understood, determining “what” should be tested becomes most important. The answer to this is more than what parameters are to be tested, but also what matrix (e.g. solid, liquid, soil, air). Are there various phases (e.g. solid phase/ liquid phase)? Are specific test methods required? What specific detection limits are needed (e.g. if the regulatory limit is in ppm levels, lower detection limits in ppb may not be important; on the other hands, limits in low ppb cannot be determined when the method detection limit is low ppm)? What are the quality assurance/quality control requirements? All qualified laboratories should have a QA/QC program. It is imperative that certain critical test require extensive QA/QC protocols to ensure that the data are representative.

When to test?

When should the samples be taken and what is the sample frequency are important questions to be answered. Sample should be taken at sufficient intervals to ensure that they represent varying process and environmental conditions. Of considerable importance also is the “sample holding time” or analyzed onsite. Exceeding the holding time basically invalidates the data. Because of this, determining when to sample should consider the time required for sample collection, transportation in the laboratory, and the laboratory backlog. A reputable lab will be cognizant of these “holding times” and will expedite these sensitive analyses.

Where to sample?

Determining where to take the samples is an important consideration in ensuring that the data generated is representative of the area of interest. Should sample be taken at the data generated is representative of the area of interest. Should sample be taken at the outfall pipe, upstream/downstream, before/after treatment etc.? The location of sampling is determined by the objective of the project, the parameters being tested, accessibility, and statistical considerations.

How to sample?

Control over how the testing is conducted in the laboratory is beyond the control of the industry operator: however the sampling is often conducted by operations personnel or by a third parties under the supervision of the operator. Thus, how the sample are taken, where they are taken, and the protocols used will determine the overall quality of the data generated. Important aspects of representative sampling can be addressed in a “sampling plan”. The sampling plan should contain sufficient detail to enable proper election of equipment, materials, logistics, sample containers, sample preservation, and quality assurance/quality control. The plan should indicate the time of sampling, frequency, sample locations, number of samples, and safety and health requirements.

In general, these questions are not easily answered, even by laboratory chemist. Most laboratory personnel are trained in analytical methods and instrumentation and few are engineers trained in problem solving. In most cases, they can assist in explaining the test method, and quality assurance/quality control. In addition, few government regulators are chemist. So where does that leave the operator? The following provides some guidance that hopefully provides operators with least the “nuts and bolts” of environmental testing commonly used in the industry.

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