October 31, 2017
Protection of the environment and improving its quality are imperative for human beings, plants, aquatic organisms, and for a balanced ecosystem. An environmental laboratory serves as a fundamental cornerstone in assessing the quality of our environment. An environmental testing laboratory performs a wide array of tests on environmental samples such as soil, wastewater, potable drinking water, air, sludge, sediments, and samples collected from the sources of pollution such as industries, domestic and agricultural wastes, automobiles, etc. Environmental laboratories typically perform two types of tests, qualitative and quantitative tests. Qualitative tests are performed with the objective of identifying the constituents present in a sample, whereas quantitative tests determine the concentration of analytes or pollutants present in a sample. Different environmental laboratories perform different types of tests. For example, water testing laboratories perform physicochemical tests, microbiological, and biological examination of water samples. Air testing laboratories perform ambient air monitoring and analysis, source emission monitoring, analysis of volatile and semi-volatile compounds in air samples, etc. Similarly, soil testing laboratories perform tests on soil samples obtained from various sources and locations to investigate the presence and/or quantity of soluble salts, macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients such as iron, manganese, boron, etc.
Data, undoubtedly, is of utmost importance to testing laboratories. Erroneous data jeopardizes test results, leading to incorrect reports and misleading conclusions pertaining to a sample. Modern environmental testing laboratories face numerous challenges on a day-to-day basis. The laboratories need to maintain data quality and integrity, minimize sample turnaround time and holding time, reduce the cost of tests, automate testing workflows, and meet regulatory guidelines such as ISO 17025, NELAC (TNI), GLP, etc. Maintaining data quality is an integral part of environmental testing laboratories. Data accuracy implies that the data is error-free and precise. The originality of the data is essential to ascertain that the data is not stolen or plagiarized. The data should be consistent, easily readable, and seamlessly recoverable. The term attributable implies that all the activities performed by the authorized laboratory users should be recorded along with a date and time stamp.
Environmental laboratories are under incessant pressure to produce high-quality data while working on a tight laboratory budget. A LIMS can play a pivotal role in enhancing data quality, maintaining data integrity, automating laboratory workflows, and in saving resources such as time, money, and manpower. About a decade ago, analysts/technicians had to allocate considerable time for manual data entry into a LIMS. New innovations have paved the way for the integration of a LIMS with analytical instruments through an Application Programming Interface (API), thereby facilitating unidirectional or bidirectional data transfer. A bidirectional integration enables a LIMS to export sample data to the analytical instruments and retrieve test results corresponding to the samples from them. Besides, a LIMS also helps in comparing the data obtained from the analytical instruments with the permissible regulatory limits of various contaminants present in environmental samples. This enhances automation, data accuracy, and throughput while simultaneously eliminating the chances of transcriptional errors. Additionally, proper and timely calibration of analytical instruments is also essential for generating accurate and reliable data. Laboratory managers can set calibration schedules of instruments in a LIMS. This helps in receiving timely alerts, thus ensuring no compromise with the data quality.
A sample entering an environmental testing laboratory must be accompanied by client information, time of sample collection, information of the field personnel responsible for its collection, sample type, preservation type, analysis to be performed, and any other information that may influence sample test results. A LIMS can help in automatic sample accessioning once a sample enters a laboratory and save all its pertinent information. Additionally, it facilitates quick generation and assignment of unique 2D or 3D barcodes to every sample. Barcodes aid in seamless tracking of samples preventing sample loss or mislay. Barcode printers integrated with a LIMS help in printing barcodes, thereby saving time and eliminating typological errors during labeling of samples.
Maintaining the Chain of Custody (CoC) for samples and tests is crucial for any environmental testing laboratory. A LIMS can help laboratories maintain CoC for the samples that move through the facility right from login to disposal while keeping a track of the custodians handling the samples at various stages such as sample collection, processing, and analysis. In addition to sample CoC, when a test is transferred from one technician to another, a LIMS plays a vital role in maintaining the test Chain of Custody (CoC) automatically, keeping a track of who performed the test.
A LIMS assures test results by preventing unauthorized data manipulation. It records each and every activity performed by all authorized users along with a date and time stamp. This step is essential to assure regulatory bodies that the data is not fabricated or obscured at any instance. After review and approval of test results by a laboratory manager, a LIMS can automate the generation of a test report in the desired format using the pre-configured set of reporting templates.
Compliance standards and regulations such as ISO 17025, NELAC (TNI), GLP, etc. are fundamental to environmental testing. A LIMS implementation helps accomplish the compliance goals per state regulations at all times. A configurable LIMS provides the flexibility to environmental laboratories to tailor the system to their needs rather than modifying existing workflows and processes to fit rigid data management systems. Furthermore, implementing a LIMS offers sustainability as a laboratory increases operational capacity and changes over time.