Environmental testing laboratories perform physical, chemical, and microbiological analysis of specimens collected in the environment. For example, a water sample may undergo physical testing (temperature, turbidity, odor, color), chemical testing (nitrates, sulfates, pesticides, metals), and microbiological testing (total plate counts, coliforms, Giardia, cryptosporium). Environmental testing laboratories provide a wide range of testing that is in many ways similar to the testing performed in clinical laboratories. Sanitarians or water quality technicians often perform basic tests (e.g., for temperature, pH, volatility, and physical appearance) at the site where samples are collected. They transmit the results of these simple tests to the laboratory along with the samples, where chemists and micro-biologists perform additional presumptive and confirmatory testing. Results from the simple tests may suggest the need for more definitive testing using instruments such as atomic adsorption spectrophotometers, gas chromatographs, and mass spectrometers. Laboratories perform much of the routine environmental testing in batches of 10 to 50 samples on semi-automated or fully automated instruments. The raw analytical data are captured, processed, and reported by using software that interfaces directly with the instrument and the laboratory's data management system.
Environmental laboratories are certified by accreditation authorities recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP). At least 12 states currently are recognized by the EPA as environmental laboratory accrediting authorities. These state programs apply nationally recognized standards to the laboratories that they accredit so that there is some consistency in the quality of tests performed by accredited laboratories.
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