Risk Based Analysis Changes Laboratories' Role in Contaminated Land Assessment, by Helen Stevens of IMS.

With the recent shift in emphasis from testing geared to specific lists to a more varied, risk based approach, access to analytical techniques which can provide a comprehensive picture of a site's contamination is now more important than ever.

At the same time, pressure from regulators, developers and landowners alike is driving down the time taken by labs to report results and, in some cases, calls for more of a partnership approach between the laboratory and consultant, with regards to analysis and reporting.

Accurate assessment of contamination on a site plays a crucial part in every remediation project. Only by identifying the type and concentration of contaminants, which can often be present as a complex cocktail, can a meaningful remediation strategy be developed.

A number of laboratories currently provide analytical services aimed at the contaminated land market. However, it has been quite common for a high proportion of the more specialised tests to be outsourced by the labs themselves. This is partly due to the capital cost of the equipment involved and also to the complex and time consuming nature of some of the more specific tests.

As Dr Rob Fuller, the commercial manager at Southern Water Scientific Services explains, changes in regulations governing the investigation of contaminated land are forcing many laboratories to rethink their strategies: "In the past, contract laboratory services could be applied quite easily to a number of analyses required for contaminated land assessment. The more complicated tests were often sent on to other labs with specialised equipment, as is the case for example with poly-aromatic hydrocarbons in soils and wastewaters."

With the change in emphasis to risk based assessments, laboratories are faced with a choice: specialise to an even greater extent on contaminated land or limit their offering to the less complex sectors. Southern Water Scientific Services, for one, has chosen to invest in order to increase the range of analyses carried out in house. "Over the next few months we will be shifting from around 75% in house to over 95%" explained Dr Fuller.

While analyses are becoming more complex, market pressures are also dictating that the results are available more quickly. The analysis of soil samples for polychlorinated biphenyls, semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides and herbicides is a case in point. Traditional soxhlet extraction can take up to eight hours per sample, and these tests are now widely requested by developers, land owners, remediation companies and regulators.

However, Accelerated Solvent Extraction (ASE), a method approved by the US EPA, and now available in the UK, reduces extraction time to around 20 minutes. Having invested heavily in new automated sampling and analysis systems, including ASE, Southern Water Scientific Services claim to have seen a marked increase in the number of customers' samples being analysed in this way. The third aspect of change in the laboratory services sector is the growing trend towards closer co-operation between the landowner or consultant and the analytical laboratory.

As Dr Fuller observes, more emphasis is being placed on complete packages of analysis and reporting. "We are definitely witnessing a trend towards real consultation and reporting, working through a problem, rather than simply receiving samples and providing data." he concludes.

For more information contact:
At the PR consultancy:
Helen Stevens
IMS Group plc
0117 929 3041

At Southern Water Scientific Services:
Dr Rob Fuller
01273 663487


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