ALcontrol Laboratories

Web-based analytical services improve remediation efficiency

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Courtesy of ALcontrol Laboratories

In this article, Steven Holmes, from analytical services provider ALcontrol, explains how web-based software is helping to ramp up the speed of environmental analysis for remediation contractors such as Sanctus Limited.

The development of brownfield sites can be more complicated and take longer than other types of building land. However, it is an attractive option because it reduces pressure on greenfield sites and improves sustainability by providing an opportunity to recycle land, clean up contaminated sites, and assist environmental, social and economic regeneration.

The speed of development is closely aligned with the cost of development, so environmental analysis has a vital role to perform because most work hinges on the result of analytical tests. There are two main objectives for soil and water analysis: firstly, to inform the management of the treatment processes and secondly to provide verification that either treated soils meet with the required specification or that treated water complies with a site's discharge permit.

Environmental company Sanctus has longstanding experience in the brownfield sector and as such is well aware of the importance of analytical efficiency. Offering both consultancy and contracting services, Sanctus provides clients with a complete solution to the issue of contaminated land. Services include site investigation, remediation design, regulatory body liaison, remediation contracting works and validation.

Sanctus experience
Test results must be available as quickly as possible so that they do not incur any delays and ALcontrol has therefore developed an online system known as '@mis' to meet this aim.

Sanctus has employed the @mis web portal at a number of brownfield sites across the country to enable online access to live test results. In addition, the system provides Sanctus with an opportunity to schedule analytical work and thereby to streamline remediation work.

It is essential for Sanctus to provide services that meet clients’ development plans and timescales, whilst minimising the risks and obstacles of brownfield development. Explaining how reliable, efficient analytical work can contribute to this aim, Alexa Stewart, Environmental Chemist at Sanctus, says “We started thinking about how we could communicate more efficiently, to allow us to obtain test results more quickly, to reduce the risk of human error and to cut our costs. To achieve this, ALcontrol suggested we trial the @mis online portal, so we set about integrating it into our procedures.”

The @mis system was developed specifically to meet the needs of clients such as Sanctus. During the development of the system, ALcontrol found that clients spent a considerable amount of time firstly completing and submitting Chain of Custody documentation and secondly calling the laboratory for the status of tests. Additionally, the manual nature of these processes introduced the risk of human error at several stages and took up valuable resources.

To address these issues, ALcontrol created a method for clients to enter Chain of Custody information directly into the system and access results from each part of the testing process as soon as they were completed. Therefore users would be able to produce detailed final reports and hold them in an easily accessible archive for increased traceability and analysis.

As soon as Sanctus started using the @mis system, they began to notice significant improvements. Alexa explains; “Both with submitting test requests and obtaining results, things are much easier and faster. By inputting the Chain of Custody information directly on screen, rather than having to fill out and submit a hand written form, we can be sure that ALcontrol will receive the right information instantly and our staff are then free to get on with other tasks.

“Previously, we had to wait for an entire set of tests to be completed before we could pass on the information to our client. This delay meant that in some cases development on a site would come to a standstill, costing our customers a lot of money. With @mis we can now access each test result as it is completed. Often one single result can tell us what we need to know; for example, if we get a really high hydrocarbon reading we know the soil is hazardous and further results are unnecessary, letting us meet our customers’ requirements much faster, help them stay on schedule and keep costs down.”

Whilst fast data is critical for many remediation contractors, for some, that speed is only critical when the results are outside of defined thresholds, so the latest version of @mis can now issue result notifications or alarm messages via SMS or email.

Non-remediation applications
Any organisation with consent to discharge wastewater to natural waters will require prompt notification before alarm levels are reached, so the new features of @mis will be particularly useful in helping organisations to highlight process related problems before they have a significant effect on the discharge. Similarly, the efficiency of waste management organisations is also affected by the efficiency of analytical work; prompt results from the chemical testing of leachates and waste materials are required for comparison with Waste Acceptance Criteria.

Looking forward
Many ALcontrol customers already benefit from the speed and convenience of @mis. However, since there is no extra charge for the tool, it is anticipated that all customers will move over to the system in due course; not just because of the real-time access to results, but also because all results are stored on @mis and therefore this archiving capability offers enormous capability to interrogate historical data and to demonstrate traceability.

In addition to secure data reports and archives in the latest version of @mis, multiple batch reports and multiple report formats are now possible. Data access has also become simpler with rapid filter capability for reports and data sharing across multiple offices.

ALcontrol has invested heavily in the @mis development team because the tool significantly enhances the efficiency of analytical services and the provision of an in-house IT capability enables the creation of bespoke features in response to specific customer requests.

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