Choosing Environmental Testing services Selecting soil testing companies

Images credits: Q Lab; Phys.org

 

Environmental testing and analysis services are businesses specializing in evaluations that determine the composition of soil, water, and air samples. These tests are often done in compliance with government regulations to assess if material composition (and therefore contamination) has been affected by industrial processes. 

 

Environmental Testing and Analysis Operation

Though some large corporations may employ in-house testing services, most environmental analysis companies are independent outfits that are contracted on a per job basis to determine the chemical makeup of a localized environment. This is performed to ensure that sites are suitable for a commercial need, and that those sites remain part of a functional, safe ecology. These businesses also directly test waste products to better facilitate the detection and containment of pollutants. Testing companies typically calculate samples in a centralized laboratory, though some analyses can be conducted on-site. They may elect to procure samples on their own if feasible.

 

The need for environmental testing is borne from the environmentalism movement, a conservationist effort in contrast to the massive resource needs of the Industrial Revolution. There are many standards of environmental testing, but those drafted by government agencies are the only standards with judicial sovereignty. As such, many environmental testing and analysis services must have certification by federal or provincial departments.

 

A modern, all-inclusive environmental testing agency is featured in the accompanying video.

 

Video credit: Settek via YouTube

 

Often, environmental analysis companies have more specialized functions than the one featured in the above video. Companies may limit their territory of service; test methods and detection capabilities; and industries served to provide expertise and cost management within the company's service scope. The aforementioned considerations can conflict or concur, and prospective clients should deliberate their needs carefully.

  • Location: nearby businesses will likely have a lower turnaround time; lower travel costs; better understanding of regional biomes; be certified by appropriate agencies; and be better suited to meet regional market needs.
  • Capabilities: smaller testing services may elect to focus on specialized or popular environmental tests. This usually, but not always, provides better aptitude for these analyses. The business will suit its service to the demand of its market, but is unlikely to provide a comprehensive analysis.
  • Industry: some testing services limit their services to a particular industry, increasing their expertise in an enterprise. One testing service may only consult on wastewater and sewage investigations, while another may only be useful to agriculture.

 

Testing Capabilities

The following initiatives are common of environmental testing and analysis services.

Assays/quantitative
 

Assays or quantitative analysis determines the amount or percentage of one or more constituents or components of a sample. 

Bioanalytical (Assays, etc.)

Bioanalytical services perform pharmaceutical, agricultural, biological, microbial, and other life science testing and analysis activities. Bioanalytical services are a subset of companies within the larger field of biotechnology, the science of using biological systems or living organisms to make useful products. Bioanalytical services are used throughout the entire drug development lifecycle. They perform pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic screening and provide expertise with mammalian cell-based assays, biomarkers, radiochemistry, immunoassays, and electrophoresis. 

Cleanliness monitoring/testing
 

Cleanliness monitoring samples and/or test the cleanliness levels or identifies contamination in cleanrooms through evaluations of cleanroom air, work surfaces, labware, tools, and/or equipment. 

Environmental site assessment (ESA)
 

Environmental site assessments (ESA) examine soil, sediment, and water for the presence or absence of conditions that are in excess of EPA or state regulations. Testing may include ground penetrating radar, geophysical surveys, soil and/or ground water sampling, and chemical analysis. 

Field sampling
 

Companies provide field sampling.

Geotechnical services
 

Geotechnical services apply the science of soil mechanics, rock mechanics, engineering geology, and other related disciplines to engineering and environmental projects. 

Industrial hygiene services
 

Industrial hygiene services can help protect personnel against hazardous chemicals, materials, or other agents in the workplace.

Monitoring programs  

Monitoring and auditing programs pay attention to groundwater, surface water, air, soil etc. 

Purity/quality (air, water, material)
 

Purity testing companies have the ability to analyze and characterize air, water, food, or other product samples for quality or purity. For example, water quality or purity is often evaluated using Source Drinking Water Analysis (SDWA) methods.

Sample pickup/report courier
 

Companies can pick up or courier samples, test results, or reports.

Sample retention
 

Sample retention holds samples for a period of time after testing.  The supplier may retain the samples for an extended period of time for an additional storage fee.

Stack emissions/opacity testing
 

Stack emissions or opacity testing tests stack waste-air or combusted gases streams for opacity, particulates, composition (carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide), temperature, or other properties.

Standards testing/certification
 

Standards testing services verify that materials meet established standards by organizations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Toxicity/reactivity
 

Toxicity/reactivity analysis is used to determine the toxicity, reactivity, corrosivity, ignitability, or flammability of a substance. 

Umpire testing
 

Umpire testing compares the test results of the same sample, which have been tested by different laboratories. Umpire assayers or referee testers compare the two or more other labs results to their own rigorous internal assays or tests. Interlaboratory comparisons, round robins, or proficiency testing services are a valuable continuous improvement tool that translates into improved measurement quality. 

Underground storage tanks (UST)
 

Underground storage tank (UST) services perform the inspection, testing, and analysis of underground storage tanks. Services may include the location of tanks using ground penetrating radar, tank integrity, non-destructive testing (NDT) evaluations, sampling of tank contents and surrounding soil, and chemical analysis of samples to soil or ground water contamination. 

Waste characterization
 

Waste characterization of a solid waste is an initial risk assessment step in a program for managing water streams to meet RCRA guideline.

 

Testing Procedures

Common ways to test for the above are:

Auger spectroscopy (AES)   

Auger electron spectroscopy (AES) is an analytical technique that examines material surfaces for low-energy, valance electrons. These low-energy, secondary electrons are used to identify elemental composition.

Atomic absorption spectroscopy (AA)

 

Atomic absorption (AA) spectrometers use light absorption to measure the concentration of gas-phase atoms. An analyte, usually a solid or liquid, is vaporized in a flame or in a graphite furnace with a temperature of 1000°—1200° K. Atoms absorb ultraviolet or visible light and achieve higher energy levels. Absorption amounts determine the analyte concentration. 

Chemical extraction

 

Chemical extraction services remove elements through a reaction with an extractant solution.

Chromatography (GC, HPLC, etc.)

 

Chromatography separates compounds by their distribution between two phases and produced chromatograms. Examples include ion chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and gas chromatography (GC).

Diffraction (X-ray, electron, etc.)

 

Diffraction instruments measure crystal structure, grain size, texture, and/or residual stress of materials and compounds.

Inductively coupled plasma (ICP / LA-ICP)

 

Inductively coupled plasma (ICP) is a very high temperature (7000°—8000° K) excitation source that efficiently desolvates, vaporizes, excites, and ionizes atoms. Molecular interferences are greatly reduced with this excitation source, but are not completely eliminated. ICP sources are used to excite atoms for atomic emission spectroscopy and to ionize atoms for mass spectrometry. 

 

Laser ablation (LA) is used in conjunction with ICP techniques to analyze solid samples. A laser is used to extract a minute volume from the surface of the solid sample on the order of 10 microns in diameter. 

Infrared spectroscopy (FTIR, etc.)

 

Infrared (IR) spectroscopy measures the wavelength and intensity of the absorption of infrared light by a sample. Mid-infrared light (2.5 - 50 µm, 4000 - 200 cm) is energetic enough to excite molecular vibrations to higher energy levels. The wavelength of IR absorption bands is characteristic of specific types of chemical bonds. IR spectroscopy finds its greatest use in the identification of organic and organometallic molecules.

 

Isotopic analysis

 

Isotopic analysis can include the identification and quantification of stable or unstable isotopes within a sample.

Mass spectroscopy (RGA, etc.)

 

Mass spectrometers separate ions by their mass-to-charge (m/z) ratios. They are used to identify compounds by the mass of one or more elements in the compound. They are also used to determine the isotopic composition of one or more elements in a compound.

Microscopy/fiber examination

 

Microscopy and metallography study the structure and composition of materials by using low to high powered magnification with optical and electron microscopes, spectrometry, diffraction, X-ray, and other analytical techniques.

Optical emission spectroscopy

 

Optical emission spectroscopy may include spark, DC arc, or photo emission.

Particle size/sieve analysis

 

Particle testing services determine particle size or particle count.  These services may include sieving, dynamic light scattering, electrozone sensing, laser diffraction, low angle light scattering (LALS), microscopy, or sedimentation.

Scanning electron microscopy

 

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) services may include failure analysis, material analysis, and the elemental analysis (EDS) of extremely small particles. SEMs are electron microscopes in which the image is formed by synchronizing a detector with a focused electron beam that scans the object. The intensity of the image-forming beam is proportional to the back scattered or secondary emission of the specimen where the probe strikes. The magnification is controlled by the length or area scanned.

SDWA

 

Companies can analyze and characterize water samples for quality using Source Drinking Water Analysis (SDWA) methods. 

TCLP

 

Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) simulates sanitary landfill containment leaching in waste samples. It was established by the EPA and is also known as EPA SW-846 analytical Method 1311. 

Trace analysis (ppm, ppb, ppq)

 

Trace analysis can detect very low levels of metals, elements, or other chemicals within a sample. The trace level can represent co-contamination or be intentionally added as part of the process. Trace levels are measured in parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb), parts per trillion (ppt), or parts per quadrillion (ppq). 

UV/vis spectroscopy

 

UV/vis spectroscopy is used to determine the bulk concentration of a sample by analyzing transmitted light through the sample. Absorption patterns and other optical properties are used to determine the bulk composition. 

Wet chemical analysis

 

Wet chemical analysis excludes all techniques that use instrumentation for quantitative analysis. It plays on important role in many other analytical applications including coating identification and wear metal identification.

X-ray fluorescence (XRF)

 

X-ray fluorescence spectrometers (XRF) use a spectroscopic technique (commonly used with solids) in which X-rays excite a sample and generate secondary X-rays. The X-rays broadcast into the sample eject inner-shell electrons. Outer-shell electrons take the place of the ejected electrons and emit photons in the process. The wavelength of the photons depends on the energy difference between the outer-shell and inner-shell electron orbitals. The amount of X-ray fluorescence is very sample dependent and quantitative analysis requires calibration with standards that are similar to the sample.

 

Testing Media

The following materials are often subject to environmental analysis.

Air Air is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, gaseous mixture. It consists mainly of nitrogen (approximately 78 percent) and oxygen (approximately 21 percent). The remaining components are small amounts of amounts of argon, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, neon, helium, and other gases. 

Air—indoor air
 

Indoor air is the air within a cleanroom, process building, industrial shelter, coating booth, or production facility. Different levels of air quality are required depending on the application or facility.

Air—environmental air
 

Environmental air testing companies perform outdoor air-quality measurements.

Asbestos/fibers
 

Asbestos is a mineral that was once used in insulation and other materials. It can cause respiratory diseases and has been classified as carcinogenic.

Chemicals
 

Chemical testing companies test liquid, gas, powder, or solid substances that have a distinct molecular composition and are produced by a chemical process.

Gases
 

Gases include argon, carbon dioxide, phosphine, nitrogen, oxygen, mixed gases, semiconductor gases, medical gases, process gases, and other specialty gases.

Hazardous waste
 

Hazardous wastes are solid wastes that pose substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment. They are defined as hazardous wastes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); exhibit one or more characteristics of hazardous waste (e.g., ignitability, corrosiveness, reactivity, and/or toxicity); and/or are generated by the treatment of hazardous waste, or are contained in a hazardous waste.

Herbicides/pesticides
 

Companies can analyze or detect the presence of herbicides or pesticides.

Heavy metals (lead, chromium, etc.)
 

Lead, chromium, mercury, and other heavy metals are toxic and persistent when released into the environment. Lead is an element that was once used as a pigment and drying agent in paint. An elevated level of lead in the body can cause serious damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and red blood cells. The degree of harm is related to the amount of exposure and the age at which a person is exposed. The Federal government estimates that lead is present in about 75 percent of all private homes in the United States built before 1978.

Inorganics
 

Inorganic substances are mineral in origin, but do not contain carbon in their molecular structure.

Microbiological (mold, bacterial)
 

Microbiological companies test for protozoans, algae, fungi, molds, bacteria, and viruses. Viruses include but are not limited to coliform, HPC, enterococci, AOC, colephage, molds, e. coli, etc.

Nanomaterials
 

Nanomaterials are metals, ceramics, polymeric materials, or composite materials with a crystal or feature size in the range of 1 - 100 nm. Nanotechnology products are consolidated materials or devices that utilize nanostructures.

PCBs/dioxins
 

PCB or Dioxin companies can test, analyze, and/or detect polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) or dioxins.

Petroleum fluids (oil, fuel, distillates)
 

Companies test gasoline, fuel oils, lubrication oils, distillates, or other petroleum products.

Polymers/organics
 

Polymers are organic synthetic or processed materials that typically consist of thermoplastic or thermosetting resins.

Powders
 

Powders are finely divided forms of metals, ceramics, polymers, composites, minerals, or other raw materials.

Radioactives
 

Radioactives are materials that release radiation.

Sediment
 

Sediments are insoluble materials deposited from a water suspension. Sediments consist mainly of particles derived from rocks, soil, and organic materials; it is a major non-pollutant to which other pollutants may attach.

Soil
 

Soil is the top layer of the earth's surface. It consists of rock and mineral particles mixed with organic matter.

Solid waste
 

According to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), solid waste is defined as solid, semi-solid, liquid, or contained gaseous materials discarded from industrial, commercial, mining, or agricultural operations, and from community activities. Solid waste includes garbage, construction debris, commercial refuse, sludge from water supply or waste treatment plants or air pollution control facilities, and other discarded materials.

Surfaces
 

Wafer/surface testing companies analyze the composition, thickness, surface roughness, and/or properties of wafers, substrates, and other precision-surfaced materials. Wafer or surface testing is used in semiconductor, electronic, optical, and medical applications.

Toxins/restrictive substances
 

Companies can test for or identify toxins or restrictive substances within component, parts or products.

Volatiles(VOCs)/solvents
 

Volatiles (VOCs) and solvent testing analyzes waste streams, products (resins, coatings, etc.), or air for solvent or volatile organic compound (VOC) content or release.

Water
 

Water (H2O) is a clear, colorless, odorless, and tasteless liquid.

Water —drinking/potable
 

Potable water is suitable, safe, or prepared for drinking.

Water —ground
 

Ground water is water under the earth's surface, regardless of the geological structure in which the water is standing or flowing. Ground water does not include water in underground streams that have identifiable banks and beds.

Water—process/feedwater
 

Process water is used in the processing of chemicals or materials. Water purity can have a large impact on process efficiency, yield, and quality. Process water can be a feed or raw material for a chemical reaction; a diluent of acid for etching in semiconductor processing; a vehicle to deliver cleaners, abrasives or polishing media; or a coolant within a heat exchanger.

Water—surface
 

Surface water is precipitation that does not soak into the ground or return to the atmosphere by evaporation or transpiration. It is stored in streams, lakes, rivers, ponds, wetlands, oceans, and reservoirs.

Water—wastewater/sludge
 

Wastewater or sludge is water that has been used for domestic or industrial purposes.

 

Environmental Testing and Analysis Service Standards

Many of the leading companies that provide environmental analysis are compliant with ISO 9000, a family of standards ensuring customer care, quality management, and regulatory coherence. Many federal, regional, and local governments will issue legislation regarding the testing and treatment of contaminated environments. In the United States, the EPA has published the Index to EPA Test Methods (.pdf), which provides a complete list of suggested test methods. The EPA also compiled a list of applicable laws. Environmental analysis companies should have appropriate accreditation and experience in navigating pollution laws.

 

Other helpful standards may include:

ISO 17025 General requirements for analysis laboratories

BS 1747-1 Air pollution testing

ASTM D698 Soil compaction testing

ISO 17892 Laboratory soil testing

ISO 10304 Determining dissolved anions in water

ISO 16814 Expressing indoor air quality

ISO 9308Detecting E. coli in surface and wastewater

 

Resources

 

ALS Environmental - EPA Methods; Air Testing

 

Summit Environmental Technologies Inc. - Environmental Testing Services

 

Adirondack Environmental Services Inc. - Analytical Testing

 

Wikipedia - Indoor air quality; Air pollution; Environmental resources management; United States Environmental Protection Agency; Environmental engineering; Environmental monitoring


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