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Questionable Practices in the Organic Laboratory: Part II
Joseph Solsky, Chemist
US Army Corps of Engineers (CENWO-HX-C), 12565 W Center Road, Omaha, NE 68144

Paper published in the Proceedings of WTQA '99 (15th Annual Waste Testing & Quality Assurance Symposium), pp. 121-125.

During recent environmental laboratory audits conducted by the USACE, certain ‘questionable practices’ have been observed, especially in the organic analysis areas. Most people have a relatively good idea of what constitutes a fraudulent activity today. The concepts of ‘dry-labing,’ ‘peak shaving,’ ‘peak enhancing,’ or ‘time-traveling’ are well understood. These practices clearly involve the deliberate manipulation and/or alteration of data, often to achieve or meet method QC criteria. Unfortunately, these practices are still being observed today. In addition, there are a new group of ‘questionable practices’ now being observed that often involve the selective exclusion of data to achieve or meet method QC criteria. Examples of some of these practices include the following: (1) Dropping points during initial calibration to meet method criteria. (2) Reporting very tight QC performance ranges when actual lab control charts show a significantly wider range. (3) Dropping points to achieve a lower Method Detection Limit (MDL). (4) Performing tunes by picking the scan or series of scans that will meet the desired criteria after the original tune had failed. (5) Performing initial calibration curves but never verifying that the peaks used for the calibration actually represented the target analyte. These practices are often described as ‘the common approach used by everyone,’ yet when described to people within EPA (e.g., the MICE Hotline), the clear response is that these approaches were never intended within the context of SW-846, although not explicitly addressed nor prohibited.

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