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OEH Scientific Laboratories reaccreditation update

Media statement: 3 March 2014

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) responded to the following questions from the Sun Herald on Friday 28 February 2014 regarding the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) reaccreditation of the OEH scientific laboratories:

1. Have NATA’s recommended changes in procedures been made?

Yes. All issues related to the complaint have been addressed.

2. Can you tell me whether NATA has told OEH that the investigation is complete?

NATA has advised that the investigation is being done concurrently with the reaccreditation inspection that commenced in November 2013. NATA has given OEH a deadline of 14 March to respond to two administrative issues relating to reaccreditation. These issues are not related to the investigation.

3. Has OEH been told whether its full NATA certification will continue?

No. Given that OEH is willing and able to address all issues raised by NATA within their required timeframes, it is expected that full accreditation will continue.

4. Given that NATA found the Environment Protection Authority (the EPA) had interfered in the process regarding the way the practical quantitation limits were calculated for the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and ‘exceeded the health investigation level’ so they were subsequently re-analysed in a different way, can OEH explain why the EPA was allowed to interfere?

Can you shed more light on where this claim about NATA’s finding comes from? It is incorrect to say that the EPA ‘interfered in the process’.

5. Would it be correct in saying the OEH scientific laboratories do the testing used in prosecution cases for OEH, the EPA, and other departments?

The OEH scientific laboratories provide analytical results for prosecutions that either OEH or the EPA might bring, but does not do analyses for any other agencies.

End of information provided to Sun Herald

Looking for more information on this issue and OEH scientific laboratories?

What are the OEH scientific laboratories?

The OEH scientific laboratories include two facilities run by the Environment Protection Science Branch and provide scientific services in the areas of analytical chemistry, chemical fingerprinting, environmental forensics, ecotoxicology, toxicity testing, environmental contaminants, the environmental effects of pollution, expert testimony in court proceedings, risk assessment, and analyses and assessment of soil health.

Both OEH scientific laboratories have a strong in-house quality control and assurance capability that ensures the scientific rigour of all services provided. The Environmental Forensics laboratory is accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA) for the range of services it provides. The OEH scientific laboratories are proud to have maintained accreditation for 23 years.

Why is the Environmental Forensics laboratory being investigated?

In October 2013, NATA received a complaint about the quality of chemical testing and reporting by the OEH Lidcombe laboratories. OEH was not informed of who the complainant was.

This complaint is understood to be about analysis by the OEH laboratory of soil samples submitted by the EPA in April 2013, collected in Hillsdale close to the Botany Industrial Park.

NATA decided to investigate the complaint during the regular reaccreditation inspection in November 2013.

Has OEH been warned it risks losing its accreditation?

No. OEH has not been warned it may lose it accreditation

While it is routine for NATA to identify issues for improvement in its reaccreditation inspections, no major issues were found during the inspection of the OEH laboratories.

NATA has commended OEH on its rapid and comprehensive response to issues raised through the inspection. Given that OEH is willing and able to address all issues raised by NATA within their required timeframes, it is expected that full accreditation will continue.

What has the investigation found so far?

NATA’s investigation raised one analysis procedure issue and three minor administrative issues.

Why were tests on soil samples suspected of containing PCBs retested during the EPA’s investigation of potential contamination in Port Botany?

The OEH scientific laboratories are independent and accredited research facilities that provide services to internal clients as well as to the EPA, which does not have its own research capacity. OEH outsources analyses that are not accredited in-house.

OEH scientific laboratories analyse samples in accordance with the customer’s specifications.

It is not unusual to test samples many times to assess for different substances, to examine the same samples in more detail, or to cross check for anomalies in the test.

In the testing referred to in the Sun Herald’s story (2 March 2014, pg 8), soil samples were provided to the OEH scientific laboratories by the EPA which requested analyses for PCBs using a method that allowed the laboratory to report back rapidly to the EPA as to whether PCBs were present.

Once PCBs were confirmed to be present, EPA subsequently requested that OEH analyse the samples using a method that allowed comparison with Australian health guideline values.

The laboratory then conducted more detailed tests using a method that would allow precise comparisons with the Australian health guideline values.

Contact: Gabrielle Last

Page last updated: 03 March 2014