Environmental Data Integrity and Laboratory Audits

Interpretations of analytical data—and decisions based on those interpretations—are only as reliable and technically defensible as the underlying data. However, data are often gathered from existing sources or previous studies without a comprehensive understanding of the quality of those data and their fitness for the intended use.

Exponent’s Environmental Data Integrity and Laboratory Audit team has decades of experience working with environmental testing laboratories, expertise in bench and instrumental analyses, quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC), and overall laboratory management. We are not your standard “check the box” auditors. The team’s practical in-laboratory expertise is reinforced by years of experience as primary users reviewing, assessing, and interpreting analytical data. We can quickly identify and evaluate data quality issues to delineate the strengths and weaknesses of the data set and identify data gaps.

Our Environmental Data Integrity and Laboratory Audit team provides clients with the support and resources to:

  • Evaluate the quality of existing data and fitness for use to support litigation and decision-making.
  • Proactively assess laboratory capabilities, capacity, and quality for alignment with project needs.
  • Review and refine best practices and procedures in place at laboratories to produce reliable and technically defensible data.
  • Assist with continuous laboratory process improvements by assessing current conditions, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and producing systems improvement plans.
  • Investigate data integrity and fraud issues to identify their extent, impact, and root causes.

Before field-sampling activities begin, early engagement allows our team to provide guidance and oversight for selecting analytical laboratories capable of producing data consistent with your project’s quality objectives. After analyses have been performed, Exponent can support your project by evaluating existing data, identifying data use limitations, and working with the laboratory to address data gaps, where possible.

Data Integrity and Fraud

Data integrity and data fraud issues arise when manipulation of data is performed to alter the true values (e.g., misrepresenting QC results, shaving or enhancing peaks for compound quantitation, associating results with incorrect calibration files). In these cases, Exponent’s team dives into the details, reviewing laboratory records, documents, log books, and instrument files to identify the extent, impact, and root cause of the data processing failure and to recommended specific corrective actions to minimize the potential for future data integrity issues.

Laboratory Audits

Exponent’s chemists have performed onsite and remote audits of environmental testing laboratories throughout the country to assess technical competency, adherence to analytical method requirements, QA programs and QC procedures, best practices, compliance with project-specific requirements, and compliance with laboratory accreditation programs. In addition to evaluating QA management programs and standard operating procedures, our onsite audits focus on the basics of the analytical process, where most data challenges arise.

Exponent also works directly with laboratories on their continuous improvement plans to identify areas for refinement and improvement of current practices and procedures. Audits include reviewing QA programs and standard operating procedures with a focus on assessing current practices and procedures and providing recommendations to improve method performance, efficiency, data quality, and resource distribution. Audits may also be performed to support laboratories preparing to meet accreditation requirements, such as the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Conference (NELAC) Institute (TNI) standards.

Analytical Expertise

Our specific areas of analytical laboratory expertise to support our clients’ data and laboratory audit needs include:

Organic chemistry analyses using gas and liquid chromatography with flame ionization, electron capture, mass spectrometry, and other detectors for the analysis of:

  • Parent and alkylated PAHs;
  • PCB Aroclors, congeners, and homologues;
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons;
  • Volatile hydrocarbons including paraffins, isoparaffins, aromatics, olefins, naphthenes, and gasoline additives (PIANO);
  • Chlorinated dioxins, furans, and other compounds;
  • Poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), including PFOA, PFOS, fluorotelomers;
  • Natural gas composition and isotope profiles;
  • Pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCP); and
  • Other non-standard organic analyses in various matrices.

Total metals and metals speciation analyses using inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES), cold vapor atomic absorption (CVAA), and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

Ecotoxicology analyses of process water, stormwater, groundwater, and wastewater; investigations for NPDES permitting, treatability, and compliance monitoring; total maximum daily load (TMDL) modeling; toxicity identification evaluation (TIE); toxicity reduction evaluation (TRE); whole-effluent toxicity (WET) investigation; and single-chemical and complex-mixture toxicity studies with freshwater and saltwater fish, invertebrates, and algae.