The science of selling science

Southern Water is expanding its laboratory services by re-entering the commercial market. New technology is being used to meet the legistlative demands on its growing client base

One of the country's ten water and sewerage companies is moving back into the laboratory services competitive market. Since being sold by ScottishPower to First Aqua, Southern Water is, once again, providing an environmental sampling and analysis service.

The accreditation has given the stamp of approval to the company's analysis procedures, which are part of the quality assurance and management systems that are designed to guarantee results for a wide range of water, wastewater and environmental samples.

The 90-strong scientific team operates from three sites around the company's region, at Chatham in Kent, Brighton in East Sussex, and Winchester in Hampshire. The laboratories offer a range of testing capabilities, encompassing a number of specialisms which include:

  • clean water analysis,
  • wastewater and effluent analysis,
  • soils and solids analysis,
  • environmental microbiology,
  • landfill monitoring and assessment.

Rob Fuller, an experienced environmental scientist, heads SWSS's commercial team. "We are now focussing our effort on actively marketing our expertise to other companies and organisations, many of whom are trying to keep up with constantly changing national and European legislation." Fuller said.

New technology
One way of achieving reliable and competitive service is through the flexibility offered by a new integrated IT system - the integrated scientific information system (ISIS).

ISIS is efficient and effective and offers many benefits. It is not only easy for laboratory staff to use but easy for customers to understand. Laboratory staff can interrogate data quickly and convert it into widely used software programmes. Southern Water can also help customers work through specific queries for a particular sample point, looking for patterns in data. This can be useful when establishing or forecasting future works programmes. Other benefits of ISIS include:

  • bar code tracking - an electronic chain of custody to keep tabs on where, when and who receives samples, and what analysing laboratory is working on them,
  • customer defined limits - ISIS can automatically highlight breaches, in bold red lettering, after set limits are inputted. If required the system can be configured to notify the customer via e-mail of results exceeding the set limits entered on the previous day,
  • statistical checking - compares results against the last 90 days of data and shows all those results outside the norm. This flags-up trends to customers and can be used as an early warning system,
  • breach reporting - following on from the political limits, an automatic e-mail report can be generated on a daily basis to inform a customer of authorised tests exceeding the limit levels. The benefit is a rapid notification of a result without having to wait for the whole sample to be completed and authorised,
  • data transfer files - authorised samples can be supplied to a customer in a specific data range. This means the system is format flexible and is typically in Excel format, leading to savings and eliminating the risk of transcription error when
    customers enter data into their own database.

The customer
SWSS has a broad customer base covering a range of disciplines, with numerous long-term clients.

Facilities and property management companies and environmental health departments within local authorities are typically involved in the management or operation of public and private buildings. As such, their remit may include the analysis and monitoring of drinking water, swimming pools, wastewater, trade effluents, surface waters, environmental waters and recreational waters. The scientific services client support team considers one of its key strengths is helping customers understand the significance of their results, in terms of the regulations and guidelines that apply to a particular scope of work.

Water management consultants and environmental consultants also place business with SWSS, on behalf of third-party clients. Areas covered include air, land and water monitoring, such as environmental impact assessments.

Water companies have also taken advantage of the facilities on offer. While almost all public water companies have their own laboratories, there are times when SWSS is able to offer help with sub-contracted analysis, or assist during staff shortages or instrument down-time. As the laboratory team are already working to Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) standards, external water companies can expect the appropriate limits of detection and quality assurance.

Many clients work to an annual sampling programme. SWSS can provide a complete sampling service or assist with the scheduling of samples, the provision of sampler's log sheets, labels and sample containers. For customers that have their own sampling teams SWSS can arrange couriers from pre-defined pick up points.

The technical expertise and experience of the scientific services team comes to the fore when assisting customers with problems. Customers sometimes need help deciding what samples to take in order to best identify the source of a problem - whether it be a taste and odour complaint, or contamination/pollution event.

Facing legislation
The increasingly stringent legislative requirements which aim to protect the environment are the real driver for a host of companies and organisations using specialised laboratory services. In recent years there have been numerous developments in legislation impacting on UK companies. Some of the key regulations include:

  • HSC Approved Code of Practice and Guidance 2000 - gives practical advice on the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 concerning the risk from exposure to Legionella bacteria.
  • The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2000 - initially replacing in part the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 1989, this comes into force in its entirety on Jan 1, 2004.
  • The Special Waste Regulations 1996 - recent regulations and developments in European legislation and the Hazardous Waste Directive has meant a general tightening of requirements for special waste handling. A continued harmonisation with European law has meant that more waste types are being designated as special waste. The current legislation is the Special Waste Regulations 1996, but this is being reviewed to more closely reflect the EC Hazardous Waste Directive and the Landfill Regulations, which more stringently control the disposal of hazardous waste to landfill.
  • Groundwater Regulations 1998 - implemented from the Groundwater Directive the major development under this legislation is the increased control of the discharge of List I and List II substances to groundwater. The regulations now specify that List I substances must be prevented from entering groundwater, while List II substances must be controlled to prevent pollution of groundwater.
  • The Landfill Regulations (England and Wales) 2002 tighten and clarify the regulations and conditions for landfill operators and specifically details sampling and analysis requirements. It defines when a waste area becomes a landfill and classifies the different types of landfill site, sets-out the procedure and conditions of issuing landfill permits and details types of waste exempt from the regulations. Potential sampling and anaylsis requirements resulting from the regulations include leachate and surface water, gas emissions and groundwater sampling.

Other developments include changes to the Nitrates Directive, new sludge to land regulations, the EA Dangerous Substances Policy and the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations.

For the team behind SWSS keeping abreast of the developments in environmental legislation is key to offering a quality service. Its expertise in laboratory analysis work is recognised as an asset which many customers consider they cannot do without


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