Understanding Lab Numbers for Decoding Building Hygiene
People’s health is not only dependent on their personal hygiene preferences, but also on the salubrious conditions of places occupied by them. A survey suggests that approximately 90% of our time is spent indoors. So it follows that we must make sure these indoor places, where we spend so much time, must be free from contamination. Environmental practitioners often collect samples from indoor sites to be sent in for a laboratory evaluation in order to assess prevailing contaminants which are prudent in impacting ambient environments and health. Protecting people against physical, psychological, medical risks and stresses, the findings of laboratory tests are amongst the most important elements while exploring causal factors linked with environmental sicknesses. Reading environmental laboratory reports and interpreting the findings requires additional information. Typical environmental laboratory results are provided with a “Cover letter”, “Analytical data”, “Glossary or narrative” on findings and “End of report”.
The cover letter serves to contain details on laboratory results. In general, it includes information on the laboratory and their contact address. It is addressed to the customer or designee referencing the project details and sample location. The main purpose of this letter is to summarize the sample type, matrix and environmental tests performed for that specified project. It may also illustrate introductory details and other relevant information besides a helpful blurb that makes the report easy to understand. It is signed off by the approved signatory. The name, qualifications and job title or designation of the signatory is clearly mentioned along with their contact details.
This part of the report is typically arranged after the cover letter and precedes the Glossary or narrative section. It is the most important segment of the report and consists of 3 main divisions: Administrative, Technical, Notes/Illustrations.
Administrative: This begins with information describing each test sample uniquely. It includes, but is not limited to, testing laboratory identification & contact information, project details, laboratory sample tracking, customer details, project location, sample type, individual collecting the sample, sample collection details, sample unique identifier and analysis requested.
Technical: This is arranged after the administrative descriptions and is followed by notes and illustrations. This mainly encompasses the test results. The test results are developed based on the details on technical data obtained after sample examination or analysis. The data reporting formatting may vary from laboratory to laboratory; however, it should include the raw data, extrapolation in terms of the appropriate units as well as data qualifiers or guidelines (if available). The methods or technologies used for experiments are clearly identified and are also mentioned after the reporting figures. It is common to uniquely identify some of the pertinent observation of data obtained.
Notes/Illustrations: The technical data is followed by important notes and/or illustrations relevant to explaining the findings and other narratives of results. Some common elements of this segment are relevant quality assurance narratives, abbreviations used, raw data table (if any), information on graphs, pictures and others. The signature of the designated QA/QC person and authorized approving signatory is also included as an important component of this subdivision. The name and qualifications are clearly mentioned for approving authorities.
Glossary or narrative
A series of descriptions (if applicable) are included in environmental laboratory reports on the identified or reported entities after the analytical portion of the report. These explanations are intended for edification or to provide an at-a-glance view of the reported components to customers and end users. Important aspects of the reported elements, such as characteristic features, habits & habitats, and other information pertaining to health and hygiene, are included for a clearer understanding.
End of report
This is an important, but short, part of the entire report that delineates “the scope of the laboratory” work with any other inserts or matters included in the laboratory reports.
The key to understanding and interpreting the laboratory report is to follow the technical data mentioned under the results section. Qualitative and quantitative (if applicable) details on the laboratory findings after sample examination and/or analysis are recorded here. Short, but useful, information on the reported elements can be found under the glossary section for a general understanding. Limit of detection and other quality control information is very useful for test authentication while inferring the laboratory findings, these are typically included under the technical section of the report. Most laboratories include these elements as a standard set of information. However, the customer/end user can always contact the laboratory for an example report or help in explaining the report. In conclusion understanding your laboratory numbers is the key for decoding building hygiene, where you spend most of your time.
Contact Dr. Rajiv Sahay, CIAQP, FIAS at (800) 422-7873, Ext. 304 for additional information.
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The Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory (EDLab) (established in 1992) at Pure Air Control Services (PACS) is an environmental lab offering complete and comprehensive indoor environmental microbiology laboratory services. They include: microbiology, aerobiology, chemistry, allergen assays and microscopy designed to meet all your indoor air needs. EDLab supports IAQ investigations by assisting with strategic sampling plan development and supplying media collection equipment while performing a wide range of environmental analyses.
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For more information on EDLab at Pure Air Services, Inc. please contact Dr. Rajiv Sahay, CIAQP, FIAS, at (800) 422-7873 x 304, or visit www.edlab.org