Advocating measured change

Peter Whittle, chair of EIC's Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Group, looks at the group’s work and broader issues facing those providing lab services for the water sector

In 1996, the National Measurement Systems Policy Unit of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) formed the first of a series of laboratory focus groups, the Environmental Analysis Group for Laboratory Excellence (EAGLE). The objective was to provide the DTI with a wider perspective on measurement issues affecting the environmental analysis sector, particularly in relation to the DTI’s Valid Analytical Measurement (VAM) programme. Similar groups were set up for food laboratories and medical laboratories. From the outset, it was intended that EAGLE should develop its own agenda and programme to assist in improving the quality of environmental analysis. The group became independent of the DTI in 2001.

EAGLE members recognised, however, the need for a more effective voice with policy makers and regulators to overcome the key barriers to the environmental analysis sector. The group therefore decided to merge into the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), an established association for environmental technology and services companies, to create the new EIC Measurement and Monitoring Working Group to represent the sector at governmental level.

In 1989, the privatisation of the water industry led to a substantial increase in the numbers of laboratories offering environmental testing, putting excess capacity into the market place. Thus in a highly competitive market, there has been substantial investment in laboratories and automation, a race to capture market share and a dramatic decrease in prices — complemented by a perceived decline in quality. These changes have affected the highly regulated potable water sector, but even more so the unregulated sectors particularly contaminated land analysis where the cost of analysis has fallen by a factor of five for many parameters over the last ten years. Hence regulators such as the Environment Agency (EA) have realised the need to set up its own Monitoring Certification Schemes (MCERTS) to set standards for measurement, monitoring and testing appropriate to the needs of the sector.

Since its independence from the DTI, EAGLE has continued to be pro-active in addressing issues in environmental analysis. The group has regularly responded to consultations, particularly at a technical level, to try and ensure any analytical implications associated with regulation are achievable with contemporary techniques. The group has also been trying to assist customers of analytical services to ensure they are knowledgeable about matters such as accreditation, fitness for purpose and MCERTS. There is also a drive to ensure members are significant contributors to committees including the Standing Committee of Analysts (SCA), British Standards, International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN).

The new Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Working Group had its first meeting on July 10, and will provide a strong voice for the sector. The focus of the new group will be:

  • identifying the key barriers to growth facing suppliers of environmental measurement and monitoring technologies and services,
  • working for progressive environmental legislation in which associated measurement and monitoring requirements are feasible with a sound technical basis,
  • working to achieve a level playing field by effective and consistent enforcement and accreditation,
  • enhancing political and commercial awareness of the importance of effective environmental measurement and monitoring,
  • working to ensure environmental measurement and monitoring is fit for purpose and quality issues are understood,
  • working to ensure support services e.g. proficiency testing, provision of certified reference materials and development and publication of methods to meet the sector’s needs.

Over the last ten or so years, the potable water compliance-monitoring sector has been a good model for effective regulation and enforcement of analytical quality. Other sectors lacking the appropriate supporting legislation have not been so lucky with commercial pressures eroding quality considerations. Accreditation to ISO 17025 alone, whilst providing a sound basis for laboratory management and quality systems, does not address the issue of performance requirements. This should be defined by customer-client agreement to ensure the testing is fit for purpose. Often, however, purchasers of measurement services are non-technical, the samples to be tested may vary considerably in the nature of the matrix and therefore price frequently becomes the over-riding factor.

The EA started its MCERTS standard with stack monitoring, MCERTS for the testing of contaminated soils is being introduced and a standard has been written for the measurement of effluent flow. It is logical that this scheme should be extended to the testing of effluents and other environmental samples. It is also considered necessary there should be feed back from the implementation of the standards, not just in respect of the practicalities of operation, but also in terms of the technical performance achieved. If the environmental measurement and monitoring industry is to progress in an ordered fashion and meet the increasingly technically difficult testing requirements of legislation a measure of how the industry is performing at a technical level is required.

A further barrier to progress is the lack of guidance on the definition of a number of parameters, for example poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), petroleum hydrocarbons, etc. These types of parameter can be measured by many different techniques, each giving a different and not necessarily comparable result. While it is appreciated that a definition may not be applicable to all situations, guidance would be welcome, and would lead to improved consistency of information and spur the development of better methods of analysis.

The EIC Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Working Group will be developing these themes and looks forward to making a positive contribution to the environmental industry and the environment itself.

  • EIC was launched in 1995 to give the environmental technology and services industry a strong and effective voice at governmental level.

With over 225 member companies EIC has grown to be the largest trade association in Europe for the environmental technology and services industry. The EIC enjoys the support of leading politicians from all three major parties, industrialists, trade union leaders, environmentalists and academics.

EIC’s national industry conference Profiting in the Green Economy held on June 25 addressed issues at the heart of succeeding in UK, European and global environmental markets. As well as a keynote speech by the Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, the conference included case study presentations by members of Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Working Group.



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