For most people, laboratory accreditation is a given when determining the capability of a laboratory to provide reliable testing. Consumers of lab services see accreditation as the cornerstone of a laboratory’s ability to demonstrate that the data it produces for use in protecting the public health and the environment is of a known quality. They rely on the State’s Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) to ensure that public and private labs are competent. While sophisticated data users demand much more than just an ELAP certification, most users trust that lab accreditation has merit and it is a requirement for nearly all regulatory programs in the State.
Unfortunately, concern has been growing in California regarding ELAP’s ability to adequately provide reliable accreditation services. Direct evidence of deterioration in the program came to light at the beginning of 2014 when CA suddenly withdrew from the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program. At that time the lab community learned that ELAP had failed to take corrective action to fix serious deficiencies in the program identified during their own NELAP AB audit. At the same time it was announced that ELAP, as part of the Drinking Water Program, was being moved from the Department of Health Services to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Babcock Labs and others in the lab community took this as a sign that it was time to speak out and demand reform in ELAP. The time of transition was seen by many as an opportunity to make meaningful changes that could improve the program and help restore the eroded confidence in laboratory accreditation.
I am pleased to report that the new SWRCB leaders of ELAP were listening. They engaged in preliminary dialog with the lab community and have decided to embark upon a complete programmatic review of the current ELAP. SWRCB has hired the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCWWRP) staff to convene a panel of five experts in lab accreditation to undertake the independent review. The panel will convene on March 17th in Costa Mesa at the offices of SCCWRP to beginning the lengthy process. The highly qualified panel includes Dr. Jordan Adelson, Director of the U.S. Navy’s Laboratory Quality and Accreditation Office, Mr. Stephen Arms, Administrator of the Florida Dept. of Health’s Environmental Certification Program, Ms. Mitz Miller, Vice President of Environmental Programs for Dade Moeller & Associates, Ms. Laura Phelps, Senior Advisor for Measurement, Monitoring, Modeling, and Laboratory Science for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Mr. David Speis, President and CEO of QC Laboratories.
The expert panel will be provided with a list of charge questions such as,
“What should the State’s role be in the accreditation process?
Are the philosophies, objectives and scope of ELAP clearly defined?
Are they appropriate?
Does ELAP have the capacity to support the program?”
The questions are intended to guide the review process as the panel hears presentations from stakeholders including representatives from public, private, and research laboratories. End data users and the general public will also have an opportunity to share their input with the panel. The experts will continue to meet over the course of 12-18 months as they consider relevant information, compile their recommendations, and produce a final comprehensive report for the SWRCB.
Meanwhile, members of the lab community remain cautiously optimistic that the time for true reform of ELAP is at hand.
Written by: Allison Mackenzie, CEO, Babcock Laboratories, Inc.