Journey of a Sample at an Envirolab Laboratory

 22/12/2017

Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of testing samples in a laboratory? Join us on our journey and learn about our laboratory professionals at Envirolab MPL Laboratories as we show you what’s involved.  

As our laboratory is an important part of your decision making, understanding what happens behind the scenes is almost as important as knowing what can be learned from your sample’s test results.

Whilst working with the Sample Receipt team at Envirolab MPL Laboratories, I found that clients were always curious about the process involved in testing their samples. Earlier this year, I teamed up with my colleagues to put together a video, which you can view on the following link – Thanks to Luisa Vumbaca, Daniel Faull, Manju Dewendrage, Kiara Lockerbie, Sandra Miller, Lisa Kerr, Rebeka Yriga and Luke Witham who were involved in the brainstorming and putting together the video.

To accompany this video, the following article breaks down some of the steps involved.

 

View video on the journey of the sample  Sample Receipt - the start of the journey
Depending on the preservation requirements, samples arrive at the laboratory in either eskies or boxes. Ice bricks are used in eskies to keep the samples cool and generally ensure the profile of the samples are maintained from the source.

This is where the journey of the sample begins. At this initial stage, our team will visually inspect the sample to ensure no damage has occurred during the transportation. The average temperature of the sample is recorded by using an Infra-red thermometer as a means to ensure the sample is within the acceptable temperature range. This is especially important for microbiological samples.

In the case of receiving damaged samples or samples out of temperature range, the client will immediately be contacted and consulted before laboratory testing commences.

Samples are sorted in the sample receipt sorting room and each sample is given a unique laboratory reference number or a “Job Number.” This number provides a unique identification and plays a significant role in tracking the sample during each stage of the analytical process.

 

Understanding the Chain of Custody
Samples are accompanied by a Chain of Custody (COC) from the client. This outlines the types of testing required, the type of sample (soil/water/dust), the Client ID for each sample, when the samples were collected (date and time) and who sampled them.

After the samples are sorted and assigned, their job numbers they are placed in different sorting trays with unique reference numbers as their location. All this information is then logged into our custom-built Laboratory Information System, enviroLIMS.

 

Inside the Laboratory
Once the samples have been logged into enviroLIMS, they move into the laboratory for our chemists and technicians for prepping and analysis, as according to the testing requirements of our clients.

Depending on the testing required, the sample may be tested by different sections of the laboratory. At Envirolab MPL Laboratories, we have six different sections; Organics, Metals, Inorganics, Microbiology, ASS (Acid Sulphate Soils) and OHS (Occupational Health and Safety).

 

Sample Analysis 
The analysis process begins with a sample being mixed to ensure homogeneity before a small representative subsample is taken for further prep or analytical testing. The remaining samples are placed back into their assigned sorting tray and stored for future use or reference for around 1 month for water samples and 6-12 months for soil samples after which they are disposed in an environmentally responsible manner.

Once the samples have been prepped by the prep teams, they will then move to the analytical machines. This can involve a number of different techniques including Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectroscopy(GCMS), Inductively Coupled Plasma Spectroscopy (ICP), Ultra Voilet Spectroscopy and so on. Classical wet chemistry methods may also be performed, including titrations and gravimetric analysis.

Proficient quality Laboratory control samples (LCS) of known value are tested in conjunction with samples to ensure the validity of results produced. The results are then validated by the chemist and laboratory management before they are released and a test report is generated via enviroLIMS and can be viewed online on enviroLIVE.

 

The Significance of the Processes Involved
The journey of a sample through the laboratory is intricate – but with good reason. The process is designed to ensure accuracy of results with reliability and efficiency for our clients.  It follows nationally recognised industry standards, including NATA Accreditation and is constantly being reviewed to reflect new developments in technology and processes.

 

References and Further Information
- View video on some of the processes involved in sample testing 

- Download Chain of Custody form

- Contact our team for further information on sample testing  

Author Heram Halim, Inorganics Team Leader at MPL Laboratories


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