ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION RESEARCH
The Laboratory Services Section under the Environmental Monitoring and Enforcement Division has succeeded in meeting or exceeding most of its targets in the past year. For the First Semester of FY 2020, the Section also has done its best to meet the set targets.
1 Laboratories Assessed, Monitored, Reassessed
For the first semester of 2020, a total of six (6) third-party laboratories have been audited for Level 2 Assessment by the Laboratory Inspection and Assessment Team (LIAT) based on the Environmental Recognition Scheme of DENR AO 1998-63. All of these assessments have been performed on-site. The audited laboratories are listed below.
- Technopark Industrial Laboratory in Binan, Laguna
- NASAT Water and Environmental Testing Division in Cabuyao, Laguna
- Lima Water Corporation and Laboratory Services in Malvar, Batangas
- FUI Laboratory in Sto. Tomas, Batangas
- Cavite Water and Wastewater Testing Laboratory, Trece Martires, Cavite
- Lipa Quality Control Center Inc. in Lipa, Batangas
Of all the scheduled audits, only one failed to proceed. It was originally scheduled on January 15, but the auditee laboratory (Regional Standards Testing Laboratory in Los Banos, Laguna) requested to move it to March 18. The audit was postponed indefinitely due to the imposed nationwide community quarantine that began in March 14.
Third-party laboratories which were previously scheduled for visit in March to June will have to be rescheduled at later dates. Moving forward, the audit must also be done online, for the safety of both the auditees and the auditors. The Environmental Laboratory Recognition (ELR) Secretariat from EMB Central Office is currently arranging for the online audit of all applicant laboratories. One has successfully completed online audit (BEST Environmental Services and Testing Corporation in Dasmarinas, Cavite on July 6-8), but it was technically accomplished during the second semester.
The major challenge that has been observed with these online audits is the reduction in transparency. Because the audit is not performed on-site, some details with regards to physical layout can be missed. The auditee laboratory can also just cherry-pick which documents or sample analyses to show the auditors, since it is cumbersome and inadvisable to upload and inspect all of them online. They can also easily hide some details which may be regarded as non-compliances if the visit was done on-site. Online audits are also inevitably longer than the usual on-site audits which last between one and two days, taking three to five days total. A stable and fast internet connection is also essential for these online audits to go smoothly, and accidental disconnections or lags can sometimes happen. On the upside, it is more convenient for both the auditors and the auditees in terms of travel effort and safer in terms of virus exposure. The auditors can also quickly excuse themselves from the meeting if they are done with their area of audit and need to attend to other matters. For the auditee laboratory, online audits are also less costly, since they do not need to pickup or drop off the auditors from their offices and provide food or accommodation for them.
2 Cross-Audit of Emb Regional Laboratory
EMB CALABARZON Laboratory was assigned to be the auditor of EMB CAR Laboratory in Baguio City, Benguet. This cross-audit was originally scheduled during the last quarter of 2020. Because of the nationwide ECQ, EMB Central Office has decided to remove this from the targets. Fortunately, EMB CALABARZON Laboratory still managed to become an auditee, and has been successfully audited by EMB CARAGA Laboratory and EMB Central Office last March 3.
3 Samples Analyzed and Number of Determinations
A total of only 358 samples (5 air and 353 water samples) have been analyzed by the laboratory for the first semester, which is only 60% of the original target. The total number of determinations is 2760 (9 for air and 2751 for water), making up only 69% of the original target. This is inevitable due to the fact that sampling activities, and consequently sample analysis, have been suspended from the start of the community quarantine in March up until the end of May. Sampling activities also came to a halt in the second half of June due to a sampling personnel contracting the virus. This may continue to be a problem for the second half of 2020, because if any laboratory or sampling personnel becomes afflicted with the virus again, an automatic two-week lockdown and quarantine would need to be re-implemented.
Sample analysis is the hardest challenge for the laboratory at present, since it cannot be accomplished from a desk at home. Chemical and microbiological analyses need specialized tools, equipment and stringent environmental conditions. Hence, they can only be performed at the laboratory. Given that the sampling stations being monitored monthly and the number of parameters has not been officially reduced, all relevant determinations cannot be performed by just one or two analysts. The skeleton force on a sampling day would have to consist of three to four analysts and one laboratory aide in order to complete all the analyses before the holding time. This already puts laboratory personnel at a greater risk of exposure, but it is a difficult choice between this or extension of working hours past 5PM, which is not advisable due to stringent travel arrangements and curfew.
Another challenge for the laboratory is the weekend duty. Oftentimes, the continuation or the completion of an analysis (especially BOD and coliform) falls on a weekend. Since there is no travel service provided by the office on weekends, an analyst would have to use public transportation, or utilize his or her own vehicle to get to the laboratory and perform the analysis. Usually, the analyst who is nearest to the laboratory and has a personal vehicle bears the grunt of the work, and no proper rotation of workload occurs. If none of the analysts has a personal vehicle and therefore resorts to public transportation, he or she is also immediately at a greater risk of exposure to the virus.
To partly address these issues, the laboratory has imposed a strict 2PM cutoff time for sample receipt so that all urgent analyses can be completed before 5PM. If there is no sample expected on a particular week, only one analyst is assigned to report per day to reduce probability of exposure. The laboratory also continuously implements social distancing, temperature check, and mask-wearing policies. An hourly disinfection log for high-touch surfaces has also been provided to utility personnel so they can easily follow and perform disinfection. For the long term, it may be necessary to reduce the targets for samples analyzed and determinations made due to the unpredictable nature of the health environment at present.
4 Aspect Upgraded
With the help of the Finance and Administrative Division and the Budget Section, the laboratory was able to successfully participate in the public bidding of twelve laboratory items, with an approved total budget of Php 3,000,000.00, despite the current situation and travel limitations. These items would greatly assist in streamlining analytical procedures and techniques. The laboratory equipment/items bid upon are listed below:
- Culture media dispenser, 1 unit
- Test tube vortex mixer, 1 unit
- Biosafety cabinet type 2, 1 unit
- pH and temperature meter, 1 unit
- Top-loading balance, 1 unit
- Laboratory refrigerator, 1 unit
- Laboratory stool, 6 units
- Infrared thermometer, 1 unit
- Water purification system type 1, 1 unit
- Pipet basket with handle, 1 unit
- Pipet jars case of 6, 1 unit
- COD test package, 1 unit
The laboratory has already evaluated the bidding documents and forwarded them to the BAC Secretariat for processing and completion.
4 Laboratory Staff Trained
The annual Interlaboratory Comparison Exercises and the Calibration Training sponsored by the EMB Central Office have been cancelled for this year. However, the three training phases for ISO 17025 accreditation will push through in September and November and will be conducted online as per ERLSD. While at home, the laboratory personnel have also attended several webinars on Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) sponsored by Autoscribe Informatics and a webinar for workplace safety entitled Environmental Health during Covid-19 which was sponsored by the UP College of Public Health. To make up for the cancelled trainings this year, the laboratory is consistently looking for more online trainings and webinars to attend that are also relevant to our work function.