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9 October 2023

How to put quality first in environmental and water laboratories

Why quality is the overriding necessity for environmental and water testing laboratories

Robert Benz

Sales Enablement Manager

Robert Benz


Robert has held numerous laboratory positions from entry level lab tech to section manager before entering instrumentation sales. Since 2008, he has been involved with LIMS sales and marketing, focusing his prior experiences on helping laboratories enhance effectiveness and productivity while maintaining the necessary quality.

Environmental and water testing laboratories play a crucial role in safeguarding our planet’s health and ensuring the availability of clean water resources. These laboratories are responsible for monitoring and analyzing various parameters to assess the quality of our environment and water bodies. However, to fulfill their mandate effectively, it is paramount that these laboratories maintain the highest standards of quality in their operations.

The laboratory’s quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) predicate the validity of the laboratory data. If either component is absent, analytical results cannot demonstrate higher accuracy than educated guesses. Both QA and QC are vital for sound quality and for preventing data from being rendered meaningless. Environmental and water quality laboratories must take all steps necessary to put quality first.

What is the difference between QA and QC?

QA and QC often need clarification, as they serve distinct purposes. QA pertains to the overall operations, programs, and policies implemented in a laboratory to ensure reliable and accurate data. QA generally encompasses a quality assurance manual and plan, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and work instructions, training and proficiency testing (PT), maintenance and calibration of instruments, and records.

On the other hand, QC refers to the specific processes used to demonstrate and document the laboratory’s competence. QC involves activities like conducting an initial demonstration of capability (IDC), determining the method detection limit (MDL), and utilizing blanks, duplicates, spikes, and controls, testing and verifying reagents, etc.

Together, QA elements and QC protocols are essential to producing high-quality, repeatable, and reliable laboratory analytical testing data.

A brief history of quality management in analytical laboratories

Quality doctrine in industry dates to the 1930s and in analytical laboratories to the 1950s. Since then, ASTM and EPA methodologies have assimilated QA and QC as well. More recently, though, the advent of automation and of information management systems have dramatically assisted complete and consistent application of quality management systems throughout laboratory operations. Through automation and laboratory informatics, environmental and water quality testing labs can raise data quality and reliability.

How automation can help reduce errors and improve quality

Automation can help with the routine application of a laboratory’s QA policies and analytical method requirements by eliminating sources of error that can lead to quality problems. Common sources of error that laboratory automation can help mitigate include:

  • Data entry – e.g., sample tables, raw data, batch QC, etc.
  • QC calculations – e.g., % recovery, RPD, MDLs, blanks (i.e., ICB/CCB, RB/MB, FB, and TB), etc.
  • Routine tasks – e.g., control charting, file backups to network, etc.

For example, automation can couple QA plans and training records to laboratory departments and sections, and even to individual staff members, ensuring the proper QC steps and validations are completed. Where quality is concerned, documentation is vital.

The extent to which laboratory automation is possible is contingent upon the capabilities of and application of the laboratory information management system (LIMS). A modern LIMS integrates and connects workflow elements among instruments, equipment, personnel, and informatics systems, all in support of the lab’s own processes, as defined by its quality management system.

How a LIMS can help with accreditation and regulatory compliance

Because environmental and water laboratories operate within a regulatory framework of standards and protocols established to protect human health and the environment, the quality management system and the LIMS work hand in hand to assist your laboratory to comply with requirements and maintain repeatable, documentable processes and outputs.

For example, for accreditation and certification, including ISO 17025, NELAP, CALA, etc., a modern LIMS should offer complete traceability on all records and certificates of analysis (CoA). Electronic traceability is another automation the LIMS offers to help maintain rigorous quality control measures.

Protecting human health and the environment demands reliable analytical data

The importance of quality assurance and control measures to environmental and water laboratories can’t be understated because the stakes for human and environmental health and safety are too great. Environmental and water quality laboratories provide the data needed to make decisions on the actions necessary to ensure water resources remain clean and the environment remains sustainable.

Scientists, researchers, policymakers, and regulators alike rely on accurate and reliable test results to make informed decisions regarding environmental protection, resource management, and public health. That’s why Clinisys developed Clinisys Environmental Laboratory™ and Clinisys Water Quality Laboratory™, two of our Clinisys Laboratory Solutions™, laboratory information management systems (LIMS) with feature sets designed specifically for specialized laboratory disciplines.

Clinisys Laboratory Solutions help future-proof laboratories all over the world by enabling end-to-end workflow automation, unlimited connectivity, easily available data structures, complete quality control, analytics, and more. Clinisys Laboratory Solutions run on the unified Clinisys Platform™, for a SaaS architecture that provides secure, cost-effective operations at any scale, without the effort and expense of hardware maintenance, software upgrades, and associated IT resources.

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