EPA Region 3
Topic: Quality Assurance
Date: April 7, 2011
Joe Slayton: Our chief customers are program managers making very important decisions about environmental quality and health, and potentially human health issues.
Host: That was Joe Slayton, the senior scientist at EPA’s Environmental Science Center at Ft Meade, Md. And I’m Lena Kim and welcome to Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.
Do you rely on numerical information to help make decisions? We all do, everyday, without much thought about the validity of the information. If the weather report says there’s a wind chill of 6 degrees, we bundle up and perhaps limit our outdoor activities. If a thermometer says our child’s temperature is 102 degrees, we may visit the doctor and keep her away from other children. Simple enough—if the data seems more or less consistent with our senses. But being “about right” isn’t good enough for an agency like EPA that makes multi-million dollar decisions about, for example, a national air quality standard or a contaminated site cleanup? That’s where Quality Assurance comes into play, to make sure the data we rely on is scientifically valid.
Back to Joe Slayton.
Joe Slayton: The decisions can only be as valid and accurate as the data we give them. If our data has bias or an error, then they need to be aware of it and they need to account for it and make sure the decisions are as accurate as can be made.
Host: Terry Simpson is the QA manager for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region. She describes what QA means and why it is so important to EPA decision-makers.
Terry Simpson: Quality Assurance is the process of verifying whether products and services meet customer expectations. It’s process-driven, with specific steps to define and attain goals. One of the most common frameworks for quality is the Plan-Do-Check-Act model following ISO 9001, on which EPA’s Quality system is based.
The importance of Quality Assurance to managers and decision-makers comes in their ability to make decisions with confidence in the science. The successful implementation of the EPA Quality Assurance system leads to scientific data integrity, justifiable resource expenditures and reliable, defensible decisions.
Host: Thanks, Terry. Jill Bilyeu is in charge of QA for the region’s laboratory, a busy person at a high-volume facility.
Jill Bilyeu: I provide quality system training based on standards, how they may change and be updated, so we go through that at least annually. I review and approve standard operating procedures in the laboratory and lead technical assistance audits that look at the entire process here from chain of custody procedures through final report approval.
Host: Jill also tells us that an external organization helps ensure that our procedures are satisfactory.
Jill Bilyeu: We are accredited by an external assessor who comes every two years to reaccredit us. They look at our entire quality system and go through it from log-in procedures all the way through our final report procedures. They look at analytical parameters and talk with the chemists about their standard operating procedures in the laboratory and how they go about analyzing samples.
Host: “CSI: Miami” our Environmental Science Center may not be, but the rigorous behind-the-scenes evidence analyses that help police forensic experts solve crimes are applied by our chemists and QA managers to support the full gamut of EPA’s environmental protection activities.
Host: Thanks, Joe, Terry and Jill for speaking with us today. For more information about Quality Assurance, visit our website at www.epa.gov/region03/esc/qa. And thanks for joining us on Environment Matters, our series of podcasts.