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Environmental Monitoring: Making MCERTain with Accreditation

By Jon Murthy, UKAS Marketing Manager

Despite the recent economic downturn, environmental issues are still high on the corporate agenda.  In addition to the growth in the number of environmental schemes, the already established schemes have expanded to cover a wider remit.
Any industrial process operator with a permit from the Environment Agency will be aware that it is required to ensure that the continual monitoring of process emissions is performed correctly to check that emissions stay within the legally permitted limits.  Many process operators choose to use the services of a third party organisation to carry out this monitoring, but may not be aware that in certain circumstances the use of an organisation with the the relevant accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 for the Monitoring Certification Scheme (MCERTS) is mandatory.

MCERTS Accreditation
Moving on from its roots in stack emissions monitoring, MCERTS accreditation now covers a greater number of areas to make the scheme more robust.  Despite adding water and soil to list of areas that can be accredited, there is still room to expand the scheme even further.  The accreditation of MCERTS activity falls into two disciplines: sampling and analysis.  From 1st June 2010 both the sampling and analysis of water can be accredited under MCERTS.  However, as the scheme currently stands, it is only the sampling of stack emissions and the analysis of soil that fall under MCERTS accreditation.
The Source Testing Association are working in conjunction with the Environment Agency, UKAS and representatives of accredited testing laboratories to ensure that greater emphasis is placed on the quality of the analysissamples taken during stack monitoring campaigns.  Work is also being undertaken by other organisations in relation to the collection of soil samples.  BS 10175 is a new code of practice that relates to the investigation of contaminated land and soil sampling.  In addition to containing several references to MCERTS and UKAS, there is support from the Environmental Industry Commission and the Society of Chemical Industry for soil sampling to be covered by accreditation.  Similarly, the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists also encourages its members to provide high quality, appropriate, reliable and independent testing services by supporting external accreditation to ISO 17025.

Accreditation and the Environment
Beyond MCERTS, there are several other areas of environmental management that can be accredited.  Acting as the environmental management equivalent of the ISO 9000 series of standards, ISO 14001 gives companies the opportunity to gain accredited certification for adopting the best environmental practices.  Sponsored by both The Carbon Trust and Defra, the recently implemented Publically Available Specification (PAS) 2050 scheme has introduced a consistent standard by which the measurement of life cycle green house gas emissions can be assessed.
The growth the number of accreditation based schemes has reached the point where accreditation is fast becoming the preferred method of quality assurance in environmental management.  So what is accreditation?  How does it work?  What results is it achieving for the process industry?

What is accreditation and what is UKAS?
Under EU legislation, every country has a single National Accreditation Body (NAB).  The role of this NAB is to carry out the independent third-party assessment of organisations that offer testing, calibration, inspection and certification services.  In other words, accreditation is there to ‘monitor the monitors.’  In 2010 The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). was recognised as the NAB, but this was a formality in response to the ruling – in fact UKAS has been the sole accreditation body recognised by government since its formation in 1995 and has roots back to the 1960s.
Achieving UKAS-accredited status is no mean feat.  The organisation applying will undergo a four year assessment cycle, consisting of two thorough visiting assessments and two further surveillance visits.  During each of the visits the organisation will have to demonstrate that it is technically competent, that its staff are suitably qualified, its working practices are fit for purpose, and the appropriate equipment is being used.  Internationally recognised standards are employed, meaning that once achieved accredited status can be utilised in 135 economies across the world.  UKAS accreditation is therefore a guarantee of best practice, but how else can it help a business.

Why accreditation?
There are many benefits to be had by undergoing the accreditation process, but perhaps the most easily identifiable are reductions in costs and guarantees of reliability.
One of the main problems faced when dealing with environmental programmes is usually the cost of implementation.  Whilst some might argue that this should not be a factor, it is evident that the more cost-effective a method is, the more likely it is to be adopted and to succeed.  In addition to highlighting areas where the business may be able to improve process efficiency and avoid repetition, accreditation has a wider cost-saving dimension as it reduces the need for an organisation to retain its own experts.

Reliability is a key driver in any analysis and measurement activity.  Users of sampling and analysis services need to know that the data that they receive is reliable and accurate.  Enlisting a UKAS-accredited organisation to carry out these services provides that assurance.  Where the results will be used in research or to demonstrate compliance with legislation it is important that results obtained can be shown to be accurate.  Further, it must be demonstrated that the organisations that procure the monitoring services have themselves employed best practice and exercised due diligence.
There are also clear market drivers for using accredited certification, as it acts as a guarantee of competence.  This has been recognised by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which will only be offering grants under its Low Carbon Buildings Programme to consumers using products and installers certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

Summary
As illustrated by the recent rapid growth in the number of accreditable MCERTS services, accreditation looks set to become the de facto standard for quality assurance in environmental management.  By utilising a system that is based on delivering confidence and reliability, procurers can rest assured that they are receiving goods and services that are technically competent, fit for purpose and operating in line with best practices.  Using accredited suppliers of sampling and analysis services can help to meet regulatory targets and acts as an assurance that the results obtained will be reliable and accurate.  For more information on UKAS or accreditation, visit www.ukas.com

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