What happens if my lab forgets to test for a parameter in my stormwater sample?

Written By: Chris Ruhlin | Jun 14, 2018

Time to Read 8 Minutes

Learn what to do when a lab forgets to test anything in your stormwater sample.

The odds are pretty good that if you're reading this article, you already understand that stormwater permits likely require some form of stormwater sampling, monitoring, or testing.

A pretty common thing we run across on an unfortunately routine basis is when a laboratory report doesn't include a required parameter in a stormwater sample. Big problem, right? Maybe, maybe not. This is more common than you think, so let's discuss what might happen if a lab screws up and forgets to test for a parameter in a stormwater sample.

How to ensure your lab tests for the right parameters in a stormwater sample.

Before we get into what happens if they forget about a parameter, let's discuss parameters and what YOUR responsibility is.

When you get your samples, you need to get them analyzed for certain chemical parameters, as specified in your NPDES permit. The reality is these parameters are actually pollutants, and your permit wants to keep tabs on what's leaving your site.

These parameters (or pollutants) you need to monitor for are based on your industrial category of type. So for example, asphalt manufacturing facilities would monitor for different pollutants than a furniture manufacturing facility. Whatever it may be that you have to monitor for, rest assured that no matter what, they can be found outlined within your stormwater permit.

This is where you come in. When you deliver your samples to a lab, you'll need to have a Chain of Custody form. For those that don't know what this is, a Chain of Custody form documents who had the samples, where they came from, and who they went to. In other words, they document the custody of the samples as they go from person to person. Makes sense, right? Chances are if you’re using a reputable lab, they won’t take your samples without one of those forms.

There's other information on the Chain of Custody form, such as information about the sample, like what time it was taken, the method of how it was collected, the type of sample, and some other basic information. But one thing that is crucial, and has to be right, is the listing of parameters you want the lab to test for.

That's right, it's on YOU to make sure that the lab has the right parameters to test for. Think of the Chain of Custody as your order form you're giving to the lab. If you need your sample tested for X, Y, & Z, you need to write that on the Chain of Custody form. Then you hand everything over to the lab, and in about 2 to 3 weeks (that's just an estimate), you’ll get a report back with all the results.

You’re done with the lab and now you can move onto your reporting requirements, which is another story.

What happens if the lab forgets to test for a parameter in my stormwater sample?

What happens if the lab forgets to test for a parameter in my stormwater sample?

Here's where the problem is - we've heard from clients more times than we'd like to admit, that a lab forgets to test for a parameter in their stormwater sample. They'll usually discover it a day or two later when they're back in their office either reviewing results or during the reporting process. Now it’s time to quickly jump into action.

When we find ourselves helping clients out in this exact situation, we advise them to do one of a few courses of action depending on when the discovery was made.

  • IF this situation was discovered BEFORE the end of the monitoring period - Simple! Grab another sample, assuming that you CAN (permit-wise) and there's another rain even (if there's not enough time, see #2 & #3 below). Once you got another sample, make sure to get it over to the lab as soon as possible, with a correctly filled out Chain of Custody, and have the lab test for that missing parameter. You might need to make note of this when reporting, but after that, get back on track with your reporting, and life is good.
  • IF this situation was discovered AFTER the end of the monitoring period - You’re now in a bit of a tight situation, which is why we strongly advise our clients to review their results as soon as they get them and not to wait! Now your course of action comes down to a matter of paperwork. The first (and only) thing to check over is the chain of custody form.
    • IF after reviewing it, you notice that your missing parameters are listed, and it is the lab's fault for overlooking them and not testing for them, you need to contact your lab immediately and see if they can run your sample for those additional parameters (usually labs hang onto samples for a certain period of time even after the analysis was performed). If they can, you’re good to go.
    • IF they can’t, then you need to ask for a letter from the lab explaining why they did not test for all parameters listed on the chain of custody form. Normally (under most circumstances), state environmental departments are typically okay with this happening from time to time. If it happens regularly, time for a new lab!
  • IF after reviewing it, you notice that your missing parameters are NOT listed on the Chain of Custody form - Unfortunately, this situation is a product of your own doing. If you didn’t list all the parameters you needed to be tested, then there really is nothing that can be done. While filling out the monitoring reports, you’ll have to honestly truthfully admit that you forgot to fill the form out to include all parameters.

What will happen to me and my business if a parameter in stormwater samples was forgotten?

Hard to say, but I think it's safe to assume that the regulatory agency you'll be reporting to won't be overly thrilled to hear it. If it was an honest mistake, there probably won't be any issues. If you messed up, you could be looking at some sort of violation, penalty, or a monetary fine. Conversely, if your inspector isn't overly strict, they could give you a free pass and say don't let it happen again! We've seen and heard it all, and it really does depend on a case-by-case basis.

If you have any doubts at all about filling out chain of custody forms or what do to should you find yourself in one of these sticky situations, give us a shout anytime at 888-RMA-0230, shoot us an email to info@rmagreen.com, or visit our contact page to fill out a quick form and get in touch with us.

Am I responsible for testing any parameters myself?

In many NPDES stormwater permits, pH (the parameter that tells you how acidic or alkaline a sample is), is required to be tested within 15 minutes of the discharge sample collection. While permits don't typically state that you must be the one to test for pH, it's pretty much the only option you'll have (unless you're within a mile or so of your lab). If this is the case for you, you'll need to know the approved methods, pH meters, and analysis techniques that you'll be required to use! For a full breakdown of exactly what you’ll need to do to analyze the pH of your samples on-site, be sure to check out our online training course: The Best Way to Perform pH Analyses of Your Facility’s Discharge Samples.

Does your facility need help with stormwater sampling and permit compliance?

We get it, stormwater sampling and permits can be a pain to deal with. After all, you have a business to run! If you're overwhelmed, you're not alone. RMA has been actively involved in helping companies get and stay in compliance with stormwater permits in North Carolina and across the United States since our founding in 1992. Long story short, we know the ins and outs of the environmental problems industrial and commercial facilities face and can help you get into compliance with stormwater permits and other applicable environmental laws and regulations, ensuring your business stays out of trouble and in compliance.

Our staff members have been on-site at thousands of operations across the country, so when we say we've seen it all and done it all, we mean it. We've helped everyone, from globe-spanning, multi-national organizations to small "mom & pop" operations. No matter your size or location, we'd love to learn how we can help.

So, if you're having any type of issue at your marina facility and need the help of an environmental consulting firm with a proven track record, reach out. Even if we can't help, we’ll do our best to steer you in the right direction. Feel free to contact us at info@rmagreen.com, click here to contact us, or give us a call anytime at 888-RMA-0230 to learn how we can help your marina in North Carolina deal with stormwater permits and other environmental regulations.

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