Selecting an Environmental Testing Lab

“The most productive way to choose a qualified lab after a thorough review of certification and technical capabilities is to visit the lab, verify capabilities and meet key lab management personnel,”
says Karl Schoene, Ph.D., president and CEO of Accutest.

FOUNDED IN 1956, ACCUTEST IS A full-service, national environmental testing laboratory network (headquartered in Dayton, New Jersey), which provides services to a variety of industrial, consulting, engineering and government clients. Combining advanced technology and experienced personnel, it provides a full range of water, soil and air testing services throughout the United States.

With seven laboratories and 14 service centers across the country, Accutest is the industry leader in electronic reporting, including e-Hardcopy, custom electronic data deliverables and real-time data access through the online system, LabLink™. All of their labs produce custom deliverables loaded directly into clients’ databases and operate on the same reporting platform—ensuring a consistent product nationwide and available online 24/7.

In August 2014, Karl Schoene, Ph.D., was named president and CEO of Accutest. In this role, among many responsibilities, he identifies when labs need resources and brings them to bear to help them perform at an optimum level.

COMMERCE asked Dr. Schoene to discuss how to choose an environmental testing lab, and for a list of factors that allow for a valid comparison. Here are his insights.

Must-Have Credentials: “Laboratories should hold NELAP [National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program] and state-specific certifications. Certain federal programs require additional accreditations. Many major corporations have their own laboratory approval certifications that must be obtained in order to provide services.”

Requesting a Pre-Qualification Package: “This includes accreditations and certifications; a summary of products and experience with similar work; an overview of capacity; a description of its Quality System; and a summary of key performance metrics. This may lead to an on-site audit to review SOPs, proficiency testing scores, statistical performance data, handling procedures, and health and safety practices.”

Environmental Testing as an Investment: “It’s important to have reliable data, and hire a company with the necessary tools to conduct analyses that meet your needs. Consider if a company has availability and capacity for a timely response. A company should be able to provide long-term support, including access to historical data.”

Key Metrics: “Ask about value-added services such as Quality Assurance Project Plan [QAPP] assistance, electronic data deliverables, reliable turn-aroundtimes and online data services. A QAPP details everything about the site history—how they’re going to take samples, what the data will be used for and laboratory criteria, including reporting limits, quality assurance limits, and method to be used. We help our clients put that project plan together.”

A Cost/Benefits Analysis: “Buying on price alone often unwittingly de-bundles the services offered. There are issues regarding capacity— a lab can have proper certifications and procedures, but five employees and one instrument. If the instrument breaks, the client has to wait until they’re operating again. With a large, full-service lab such as Accutest, we have 30 instruments and 50 people in a department. We have redundancy both from a people and equipment standpoint.”

Using an Engineering Consultant: “We deal both directly with clients and engineering consultants on behalf of clients. If a company has internal knowledge and expertise of environmental testing, they may choose to make the selection themselves. However, many consultants have lab selection programs and know what to look for. They can help interpret laboratory results and guide the proper use of data. Either way is acceptable; however, a company should familiarize itself with the overall value proposition of the testing laboratory.”