Why lab certification matters

The District is committed to testing for PFAS, but we also want to ensure we receive high-quality, reproduceable and accurate results. To achieve that, we are waiting for lab certification for testing PFAS in wastewater.

When you are in the market for a new car, you’re likely considering a few interests. And chief among them is confidence that a vehicle has been tested and inspected to ensure that it will get you and your family safely from point A to point B.

We want that same confidence in testing for PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in the wastewater cycle.

The District is committed to testing for PFAS in our influent (incoming wastewater) and effluent (outgoing reclaimed water). However, we also want to ensure we receive high-quality, reproduceable and accurate results. To achieve that, we are waiting for the State of Wisconsin to certify analytical labs specifically for testing PFAS in wastewater and biosolids.

But why is certification so important? Here are three reasons why the District will only use a state-certified lab.

Quality Assurance/Quality Control

State of Wisconsin Laboratory Certification ensures that the labs have been audited, employ proper analysis procedures, demonstrate proper calibration and quantification techniques, and follow quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) standards. In short, using certified labs ensures accurate and defensible results.

There are certain QA/QC standards that a certified lab cannot fail before releasing results; if a lab fails certain quality control checks, the lab cannot report the data and the sample must be rerun. 

For example, a lab uses a set of standards to calibrate their instruments. Afterward, they run a second standard from a different manufacturer or from a different lot, called a “second source standard.” This second source standard must meet specific criteria. If it does not, the data cannot be reported.

Consistent Results from Lab to Lab

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has granted PFAS drinking water certification to a handful of laboratories across the nation because there is an approved drinking water method for PFAS and labs follow that method. However, the District deals in wastewater and biosolids, media that contain solids content and particulate matter, which requires different analytical methods and processes compared to drinking water. As of now, there is not an approved method for wastewater and biosolids samples. Because of that, labs may treat these types of samples differently and results could vary. By using a certified lab, we can be assured they are following specific and consistent procedures.

As of now, there is not an approved method for wastewater and biosolids samples. Because of that, labs may treat these types of samples differently and results could vary. By using a certified lab, we can be assured they are following specific and consistent procedures.

The WDNR is reviewing applications from labs interested in getting certified to test for PFAS in wastewater and groundwater and in solids. The pandemic slowed the lab review process, but certification is expected in the coming months.

Evolving science

Testing for PFAS compounds and the ability to measure such low levels is fairly new, and we have few or no comparative health/environmental standards on which to compare the results we get. In addition, regulations are constantly shifting and testing methodologies are evolving. Because lab certification is an investment on behalf of the company, certification offers some certainties that the lab will also evolve with the science and stay abreast of changes in the regulatory landscape. In turn, this assures that the District is receiving high-quality data and analysis to support our mission of protecting public health and the environment.

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