Quality Accreditation in Inorganic Geochemistry...by Charles Gowing

The Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratories in Nottingham successfully achieved re-accreditation to the Quality Standard ISO 17025 (competence of testing and calibration laboratories) and the Environment Agency's Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) for soils.

The laboratories have held accreditation to ISO 17025 since 1998. Maintenance of this accreditation is by re-accreditation every four years and ongoing competence is assessed annually via external audit by independent experts from the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS). Accreditation for laboratory data output demonstrates a standard for the quality of analyses against an internationally recognised standard, namely ISO 17025.

Why is this important?

  • Many external clients in industry commission only laboratories who have appropriate accreditation for commercial or regulatory purposes.
  • Accreditation against ISO 17025 provides an internationally recognised Standard of quality that is accepted by our clients and partners around the world.
  • Accreditation provides confidence in the quality of data outputs which helps to bolster submissions for research funding to appropriate funding bodies.
  • Experience in evolving an accredited management since 1998 provides a wealth of experience when Inorganic Geochemistry are employed in overseas science partnerships or capacity strengthening projects e.g. Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi, Tajikistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe (see previous blog).

What is covered?
Analysis of water by ICP-MS. 
The scope of accreditation includes determination of cation, anion and aqueous parameter concentrations in natural and experimental water samples and for determination of pH in soil samples.

Although this does not cover all of our laboratory techniques it does cover the most common techniques required specifically by clients or regulatory authorities. Moreover, the IG laboratories management system is central to the ISO 17025 accreditation and all other methodologies and techniques are operated within this environment.

Why are not all of the techniques included in ISO 17025?

The IG laboratories provide a range of specialist analyses that are research focussed for our own activities or bespoke for external clients and collaborative research. Therefore, these methodologies require a degree of flexibility on a project by project basis that would not be possible to achieve with formal accredited status of individual methods and would not be cost efficient. However, the ISO 17025 environment and mind set is embedded within all of the IG activities to demonstrate confidence in data output, whether it is for bespoke analytical packages requested by clients or data reported through peer review publication.

Additional recognition of high data quality in Inorganic Geochemistry

The quality of the analysis we provide is reinforced by regular participation in independently organised Proficiency Testing Schemes, which supply samples for analysis blind to the analyst.

Analysis of river water by ion chromatography. 
The reputation of the Inorganic Geochemistry laboratories is recognised by our contribution to the Steering Committees of two of these schemes: Contest, run by Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC); and GeoPT, run by the International Association of Geoanalysts (IAG).

Inorganic Geochemistry routinely provides primary source analysis for candidate Reference Materials (RM) to a number of reference material producers, including Geological Surveys across the world, LGC and IAG, exemplified this summer by excellent performance in analysis carried out for 23 elements in a hard water standard (LGC 6026) and 4 anions in a River Water Reference Material (LGC 6020). In terms of accuracy, the data we provided were among the highest quality of all of the preferred supplier laboratories in the UK.

In addition, our excellence in this field is reflected as one of the preferred laboratories to some of the principle suppliers of certified reference materials to industrial and academic laboratories. The provision of reference materials is an opportunity for the future, with potential to reinforce the external reputation of the Inorganic Geochemistry laboratories.

Dr Charles Gowing is the UKAS Quality Manager for the Inorganic Geochemistry Laboratories in The Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.