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NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL LABORATORY ACCREDITATION PROGRAM (NELAP) SUPPORT
The purpose of the NELAC is to foster the generation of environmental laboratory data of known and documented quality in a cost-effective manner through the development of nationally recognized standards for environmental laboratory accreditation.
The nation has long suffered from the inefficiencies and inconsistencies of the current multiple environmental laboratory accreditation programs. In the 1970's, EPA set minimum standards for a drinking water certification program. The drinking water program was adopted by the states and augmented with varying state requirements. Many states expanded the drinking water accreditation program to cover other areas such as hazardous waste and waste water. All of these programs developed more or less independently with little coordination. This resulted in a patchwork of accreditation programs that had varying degrees of rigor, burdened laboratories conducting interstate commerce due to the need for multiple accreditation, and was unrecognized in the global market.
Recognizing the need for a new and better way to do "business", EPA established the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Conference (NELAC) in 1995 to address this nation-wide problem. NELAC is a voluntary program to develop consensus national standards for environmental laboratory accreditation. The states adopt the standards for use in their jurisdiction and assume the primary responsibility for implementation. Through careful coordination of the Agency's objectives, the states' needs, and the vast experience of the laboratories and regulated community, NELAC is providing a common sense approach to resolving the differences in the existing state accreditation programs.
The NELAC process includes all the stakeholders: states; federal agencies; local governments; Indian tribes; the regulated industry and the laboratories that service them; environmental interest groups, etc. The various committees and meetings in NELAC create a continual feedback loop to assure that the standards are reflective of the changing technologies and regulations, as well as incorporating improvements. In addition, EPA identified early on that an adjunct to NELAC was needed and formed the Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board (ELAB), a federal advisory committee. ELAB provides essential consensus comments from the private sector.
EPA's role in facilitation and oversight is one of the key elements to the smooth functioning of NELAC. EPA organizes and coordinates the activities of NELAC, providing a needed infrastructure. EPA also ensures the uniformity of application of the standards through oversight of the state programs. Lastly, EPA serves as the accreditor of the principle state laboratories.
The service being rendered to the nation by NELAC is widely recognized and appreciated. Based on EPA's traditional role of command and control, the states and the private sector were originally wary of the process and suspicious of EPA's motives. As NELAC unfolded, it was clear that input from all sectors was welcomed and that the open meetings assured a free flow of information. In a little more than three years, NELAC has grown from a concept into a program that is in place in 12 states - on a voluntary basis - because it simply makes good sense and good economics. The success of NELAC can now be measured by the trust and confidence that all members have in the process, the support generated throughout the states and the private sector, and the rapid progress that has been made.