Environmental Laboratory

Blue Books go Digital and are the Standing Committee of Analysts (SCA) still Standing?

Jun 01 2018 Read 1002 Times

Author: Tom Lynch on behalf of Tom Lynch - Independent Analytical Consultant

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One of my first jobs was in the Tayside Regional Council Public Analysts laboratories in Scotland and I can still remember as a young technician following the “Blue Book Methods” in the Water Analysis laboratory there.   So, you can imagine my surprise when the first day of the recent meeting titled “Driving Innovation in Water and Waste Analysis Methods” at the SCI in London was all about Blue Books and the Standing Committee of Analysts (SCA).   However, it soon became apparent that there was a great deal of interest in both. 

The SCA comprises a series of working groups who provide guidance on methods of sampling and analysis for determining the quality of environmental matrices. Guidance is published as Blue Books within the series Methods for the Examination of Waters and Associated Materials which are available globally. See http://www.standingcommitteeofanalysts.co.uk/ 

Following the welcome and introduction from Marcus Rink the first session of the meeting focussed on the SCA past and present.

The first presentation was by Prof K. Clive Thompson who gave a personal view of “The SCA Story: Past Present and Potential Future”.  Clive began by comparing methodology for water analysis in 1962 and post 2000 highlighting how technology, workloads and commercial considerations had changed the approach and how the publication of 238 SCA Blue Books had aided method best practice and standardisation.  Clive then moved on to discuss the history of the SCA which was established in 1973 by the Department of the Environment and is now managed by the Environment Agency in the UK

The SCA exists to provide authoritative guidance on methods of sampling and analysis of waters and effluents, sewage sludges, sediments, soils (including contaminated land) and biota and the primary duty of SCA is to develop and publish recommended analytical methods. It represents the collective knowledge of the UK in the provision of methodology which is given and shared freely for the purpose of ensuring quality and consistency in the chemical and microbiological analysis of water, waste water and related materials. Clive then went on to discuss SCA methods and gave his personal views on method validation and the pitfalls of approaches such as ISO and CEN interlaboratory trials as a means of validating analytical methods and where he felt the EU Project “HORIZONTAL”, whose aim was to prepare methods that could be adopted by CEN as European Standards and cited by the European Commission in legislation, had limitations in some of the technical approaches for ISO method validation. He went on to discuss a long list of emerging analytical challenges for the water industries including pathogenic bacteria, viruses and prions, pharmaceuticals, transformation products, nanomaterials and microplastics and the possible implications of non-monotonic dose toxicity response curves.

The next presentation “Defining the SCA Priorities” given by Marcus Rink, the UK Governments Chief Inspector of Drinking Water and Chair of the SCA board, brought the SCA story up to date. Marcus reinforced the purpose of the SCA and recognised that it has long been regarded as the expert committee for accepted methodology to enable compliance with regulation. However, he stressed that it must continue with a sense of direction, be financially supported by relevant stakeholders in its work and also held to account by its stakeholders. Marcus described how following a period somewhat in the doldrums the SCA had now been revitalised through a strong leadership Board whose objectives included agreeing a long term strategy, directing the SCA working groups and setting objectives to ensure that methods produced are best practice and align with regulation. The aim was to ensure that UK methodology remains a worldwide standard and to promote membership support to ensure a long-term future for the organisation.  In 2012 the SCA board developed five strategic objectives: -

  • Develop and implement methods that are current, robust, usable and are globally recognised
  • Build relationships in order that laboratories and regulators and those who accredit have confidence in the methods 
  • A trusted and professional body 
  • Recognised experts in Drinking Water and Environmental Analysis
  • To be an industry focus for innovation and R&D

In 2013 the SCA surveyed users who covered a wide range of activities as shown in Figure 1 and the majority either used the SCA Blue Books as the basis of an in-house method or as a reference to develop new or amend current methods.

The results of the survey in combination with the strategic objectives were employed to develop a strategic delivery plan to

  • Produce and Publish the Strategic Direction
  • Improve Access to both Current and Historical Methods
  • Support the Working Group Structure
  • Improve the Participation at Working Level
  • Promote the Work of SCA

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