The Environment Agency’s Monitoring Certification Scheme for the Chemical Testing of Soils:
What it is. How it affects you. What you need to do.
MCERTS Monitoring Certification Schemes were first introduced in industrial sectors with regulated processes that resulted in stack emissions. The scheme requires those companies to deliver monitoring results that are “valid, reliable and accurate”. To get to this position depends on using the appropriate resources – correct test methods, competent personal, accredited organisations and suitable equipment and planning.
The MCERTS scheme for chemical testing of soils was introduced by the Environment Agency to support their regulatory activities and make informed, quality assessments on the management of contaminated land under a number of regimes, including, Part IIa of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations 2000 and the Waste Management Licensing Regulations 1994.
The scheme is applicable to all testing laboratories and procurers of analytical services, where results generated for the chemical testing of soil are submitted to the Agency. In order to gain accreditation on the scheme, laboratories are required to have their processes, essentially test methods, in a quality management framework, by both the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to the international standard ISO 17025 and also MCERTS requirements.
There are increasing pressures on businesses to comply with Environment Agency regulations and European and international standards. Using a laboratory with MCERTS accreditation alleviates some of this pressure because it guarantees the proper use of suitable methods, standards, services and equipment, trained and qualified personnel, quality assurance and quality control all leading to reliable data. MCERTS accreditation also assures users that the laboratory meets performance standards set out in current international standards and the growing requirements of EC directives.
Failure to meet the regulations can be costly, both financially and to a company’s reputation. An MCERTS accredited laboratory assures the user that they have met standards in a number of areas including:
The selection and validation of test methods
Sampling pre-treatment and preparation
The estimation of measurement uncertainty
Participation in proficiency testing schemes
The reporting of results and information
The benefits of the scheme include:
Providing assurance to stakeholders of the quality of data from testing
A level playing field, based on the Agency’s requirements, is established
Identifying that the chemical testing of soil is a critical component in producing defensible data for regulatory purposes.
In order to guarantee reliable data from the chemical testing of soils and therefore reassurance that risks are minimised, procurers of testing should:
Ensure the chemical analysis results submitted to the Agency for regulatory purposes conform to MCERTS requirements.
Check that the laboratory conducting the testing has MCERTS accreditation for all the parameters requiring analysis. Accreditation is given on a parameter-by-parameter basis. If they do not have the correct accreditation sub-contracting of the test required to another MCERTS laboratory may be required. If a suitable laboratory does not appear to be available, contact the Environment Agency for advice.
Check that the test methods employed by the laboratory are appropriate and fit for purpose in terms of the parameter, the Critical level of interest (CLI) and the matrix. The CLI may be a soil guideline value or a regulatory limit.
Check with the laboratory that the sampling processes, preservation and transportation are appropriate.
In collaboration with your chosen laboratory, have complete audit trails available that address aspects such as sample location, depth of sample, date and time of sample, reference identity and the laboratory used.
The MCERTS scheme for the chemical testing of soils was phased in, but has been fully operational since 1 March 2005. Therefore, all data for regulatory purposes should now be to the MCERTS standard. Laboratories and the procurers of testing need to work together to ensure that the test data provided meets the requirements and satisfies the needs of the ultimate client.
Cliff Billings Group Technical & Quality Manager STL UK
EA’s position on MCERTs
From 1st March 2005, the Environment Agency has required accreditation to our Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) where laboratory soil testing results are submitted to us as part of a regulatory regime for which we have statutory responsibility.
We strongly recommend that MCERTS accredited methods are used for soil testing in activities to do with site remediation, whether carried out on a voluntary basis or to comply with planning requirements. This is particularly important in relation to any waste management issues on the site.
Jackie Harrison Environment Agency
Contaminated Land Working Group Meetings
In recent meetings of the Contaminated Land Working Group, it has been clarified that the EA is a consultee but not a Statutory Regulator for planning applications. This means that MCERTs data may not always be required at the planning stage. Although the EA recommend MCERTS, the final decision is up to the Local Authority.
Some AGS Members feel that all tests should be to MCERTS so that the reports can be used at a later date. At present, the EA is expected to take a pragmatic approach to historical data obtained before the introduction of MCERTS and take account of whether the laboratory is now accredited, and other relevant factors. However, this may not always be the case, particularly for data collected after March 2005, and the need to ‘future proof’ data should be seriously considered.
Meet NHBC Requirements with MCERTS
The NHBC welcomes MCERTs accredited testing and supports it’s use in association with robust and representative soil sampling strategies when investigating sites affected by contamination. It brings transparency and consistency to the analytical testing techniques and encourages discussion between the consultants and testing laboratories which can only be a positive step forward.