How well do our measurements measure up? An overview of South Africa’s first proficiency testing scheme for organochlorine pesticides in water
Access to safe drinking water is a basic human right in South Africa. Therefore, the accurate measurement of water quality is critical in ensuring the safety of water prior to its intended use. Proficiency testing schemes (PTSs) are a recognised form of assessing the technical competence of laboratories performing these analyses. There are over 200 water testing laboratories in South Africa, with only 51 being accredited for testing some or all parameters (physical, chemical and microbiological content) prescribed in SANS 241. Only a limited number of laboratories test for organic contaminants, as this requires advanced, costly analytical instrumentation, such as GC-FID/ECD/MS and LC-UV/MS, as well as skilled staff. These laboratories are either looking at selected organic contaminants listed in the World Health Organisation (WHO) drinking water guidelines or performing the minimum requirements, as stipulated in SANS 241, for phenols, atrazine, trihalomethanes and total dissolved organic content. Whereas several local PTS providers are addressing the competent assessment of microbiological, physical and inorganic chemical testing of water, a clear need for a South African PTS provider for organic contaminant analysis in water was identified by NMISA (National Metrology Institute of South Africa) in 2012. The key drivers for the coordination of a local PTS stem mainly from the limited stability of analytes in the samples for analysis and the high cost and logistics of international PTS participation. During 2012 and 2013, NMISA conducted a PTS trial round, a workshop and 2 additional PTS rounds for organochlorine pesticides in water, for South African laboratories, and also several international participants from other countries in Africa. This paper will highlight some of the challenges faced by laboratories when analysing organochlorine pesticides at the ng/ℓ concentration level. Issues surrounding the comparability of measurement results, traceability, method validation and measurement uncertainty are also discussed.
Keywords: Proficiency testing schemes, PTS, organochlorine pesticides, drinking water