Cross-Agency Laboratory Activities
The Laboratory Enterprise (LE) enables EPA to meet its mission by conducting analyses that range from routine to highly complex; undertaking field work; developing, validating, and modifying analytical methods; developing tools; providing technical assistance and training and education; and ensuring the quality of its products through peer review, audits, accreditation, and quality assurance. The lab system supports regulatory and enforcement work, emergency response, site characterization and cleanup, complex issues requiring novel methods and tools, and research. The laboratories provide a set of products and services that are high-quality and tailored to the needs of EPA customers and its stakeholders. Customers and stakeholders for Laboratory Enterprise products and services include, but are not limited to:
- State, local and tribal (environmental) authorities and labs;
- Emergency responders and law enforcement;
- Other federal agencies;
- EPA Program and Regional offices; and
- The public
Sample analysis provided by the LE include many methods, quantitative (measurable and verifiable) or qualitative (non-measurable), for chemical, biological, physical, and radiological type parameters. EPA’s national presence means that sampling may occur at a facility, in a city-, or on a county-, state-, or nation-wide basis.
There is wide variation in the types and number of sample analyses conducted across the LE. These variations are mainly attributed to changes in science issues, customer needs or emergencies, etc. Many of the analyses are performed in support of local, state, or 6 tribal agencies; emergency response; Superfund or brownfield sites; investigation and enforcement; or an EPA Program Office.
Another vital function of the LE is field sampling, measurements, and monitoring. Field samples are primarily, but not exclusively, air, water, or soil collected for analysis in a laboratory setting. Measurements are also taken in the field to assess environmental conditions during field sampling events. Monitoring generally consists of taking field measurements at a certain frequency to assess various environmental conditions over time (e.g., weather, contamination, etc.). This activity can include single or multiple sites or locations and varies in type (active or passive) as well as frequency (intermittent to continuous).
The LE provides a wide range of technical support on various topics. In addition, five ORD Technical Support Centers provide services internally, as well as to external customers.
The most common forms of technical assistance provided by the LE are providing reference standards to states, localities, and tribes, followed by assisting with technical inquiries/support or troubleshooting requests associated with measurement methods and performing or supporting risk assessments.
All environmental data collected and used by or for EPA is to be of known quality, adequate for its intended use, documented, verifiable, and defensible. This includes data used for making scientific and regulatory decisions, and may be acquired through direct measurement activities, collected from other sources, or compiled from computer databases and other information systems.
EPA requires all 50 states, commonwealths, and territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, funded by EPA to maintain EPA approved Quality Management Plans (QMP). QMPs are used by EPA organizations and EPA-funded external organizations to define an entity’s quality-related policies and procedures and describe roles and responsibilities, authorities, and how the plan will be applied.
EPA also requires a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) to support federally funded environmental projects involving the collection and use of environmental data. This project-level plan captures how and why a project will be conducted and assures the quality of the data for its intended purpose. Both QMPs and QAPPs are key to successful projects and ensure quality is considered throughout the organizations and for individual projects. QA planning documentation is required by agency policy (EPA Order 5360.1 A2) and by the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) for our contractors and grantees (48 C.F.R. § 46 for contracts and 40 C.F.R. §§ 30-31, 35 for assistance agreements) and are included in inter-agency agreements. For more information on quality assurance, please visit the EPA page How EPA Manages the Quality of its Environmental Data.
Training and Education
The LE staff play a critical role in training and educating students, partner organizations, and others to help prepare the next generation of scientists dedicated to environmental protection and public health.