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


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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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