Let’s talk a little bit about Semivolatile organic compound analysis. For years, environmental labs have been analyzing these contaminants using gas phase analysis instruments like GC or GC-MS. Detection of these compounds is usually completed via standalone detectors like ECD, FID or mass spectrometers. As the years have progressed, so has technology and the regulatory methods that give the instructions on how we analyze them. We have seen migration from paper chromatography methods to software managed, manual pressure controlled GC to automated pneumatic pressure controls, packed columns to capillary and GC standalone detectors to mass spectrometers and so on. So with all these advancements how do labs take advantage? More importantly, what I want to discuss is what happens in a lab when we have to update our old instrumentation?
"It is by chance that we met, by choice we became friends"
In my training and troubleshooting sessions with customers I always encourage them to give their instruments a name. NO really! I am not joking. In a way, analysts and their instruments have a bond. You depend on your instrument for quality data and analysis and your instrument depends on you for proper up-keep and maintenance. It is a symbiotic relationship of convenience and naming your instrument strengthens only that bond. Besides getting the occasional snicker from auditors or passers by in the lab, naming gives you someone to talk to, complain too, curse at or shower with praise. I know it's tongue in cheek and maybe our fume hood is malfunctioning, but with this relationship there comes a time when we have to let go of the fond friend from days past and move on to a new relationship.
Replacing Outdated Instrumentation
As our regulations change and evolve so must our labs and lab capabilities. Many of the regulatory updates we have seen in recent history center around improved capabilities of instrumentation. Indeed this is the case with upcoming updates for EPA SVOC method regulations. A list of the proposed updates for SVOC is shown below.
Both the MUR and the SW-846 ver. VI are currently in comment review and stages awaiting finalization. Stay tuned for official finalized updates around the end of 2016.
Other than new instrument capabilities, there are many reasons to update including newly introduced or emerging contaminants, improved knowledge of health effects of contaminants from new exposure data, changes in occurrence data, increases in observed concentrations and / or advances in sensitivity of our instruments. Additionally, changes in the feasibility of monitoring and or treatment technologies can also inspire regulators to update SVOC regulatory methods
Regulatory Method Updates: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Old methodologies can be changed, new methods can be introduced. Overall, updates can manifest in regulatory methods in many ways. Regulators could include new compounds, new technology like triple quadrupoles, and new operating modes similar to those we observed in recent 525 updates. The continued improvement of technology sensitivity has also impacted monitoring levels, enabling lower detection limits.
In the lab, updates to methodology come with their own challenges. Changes to lab routines disrupt productivity, require a never ending series of paperwork, and not to mention new training requirements for lab staff. I could go on and on but what happens if we fail to evolve with our methods and hesitate to update instrumentation to meet new criteria? There are definitely pros (good) and cons (bad and ugly) to instrumentation updates and only you and your lab team can decide when it’s time to start the process.
Weighing the Decision to Update Instrumentation
The Bad and Ugly
Improved sample preparation capabilities Less solvent consumption Transition to more capable Mass Specs Features like SIM, SRM and CI Reduction of operation costs Removal of bottle necks Increased productivity and throughput Decreased maintenance requirements Achieving Lower detection limits
Productivity decreases Misrepresentation of samples Inaccurate quantitation False positives Reanalysis requirements Customer concerns with lab capabilities Customer loss to competing labs Accreditation loss Public health and safety endangerment
The challenges we experience form regulatory changes and the investment required are in most cases outweighed by the benefits of new instrumentation. Adopting new instrumentation also provides labs an opportunity to take advantage of other features and capabilities that weren’t available before. Some enhancements that are available for your labs SVOC workflow are listed below. Click on your area of interest to explore the details.
I can see the tears falling now. The gentle whimpers and gasps for air as our old stand-by instrument is gurneyed out of the lab. Sadly this one didn’t make it. Though we tried to revive it, time has run its course.… pause for effect. Not to worry, more samples await analysis and new instruments breathe new life into our labs offering the chance to build new relationships and new opportunities for improvement.