Updated Information Regarding California's Accreditation Program

On December 30, 2013, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) notified the NELAP Accreditation Council (AC) of its intent to withdraw from TNI’s National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP) as a result of problems observed during its evaluation process.  The NELAP AC accepted this withdrawal, effective January 31, 2014.  As of February 1, 2014, CDPH does not hold a valid Certificate of Recognition as a NELAP Accreditation Body (AB) and is no longer able to issue NELAP accreditation certificates.

After being informed of the withdrawal, the NELAP AC went to work to ensure that a smooth and orderly transition occurred, and as of February 1, 2014, all California labs that intended to continue their NELAP accreditation have been granted new NELAP certificates from NELAP-recognized Accreditation Bodies.  The NELAP AC thanks the Oregon Department of Health and the Utah Department of Health for the expedient processing of each of these new primary accreditations.

The NELAP evaluation process is a rigorous peer and EPA review.  ABs normally address any findings by proposing and completing appropriate corrective actions, with that completion confirmed before the recommendation for renewal of an AB’s Certificate of Recognition is approved by the Accreditation Council.  Renewal is the expected outcome of an evaluation, and NELAP ABs believe that these evaluations are opportunities for improvement and a chance to learn from one another.

CDPH provided NELAP with a list of all its NELAP-accredited laboratories and email contact information for them.  Using this, NELAP contacted each laboratory that held primary NELAP accreditation with California.  Each was advised that they needed to obtain primary NELAP Accreditation from another NELAP AB if they intended to remain a NELAP accredited laboratory, noting that some of the current NELAP ABs would be unable to accept CA Certificates of Accreditation after January 31.  The labs were also assured that the NELAP AC will make that transition as smooth as possible.  Click here for a copy of the letter in PDF format.

Most of the California labs applied to Oregon's Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ORELAP), with one applying to Utah.  We understand that four of the labs either chose to take more time to decide or else work only in California.  We emphasize that none of the laboratories accredited by CDPH are "suspect" in any way, and no problems with the laboratories have become evident as a result of this transition.

As of January 31, 2014, all of the California labs that applied to ORELAP were issued new NELAP accreditation certificates, and the lab that applied to UT was issued its certificate.  All of the site visits to these labs are planned for completion within 4-5 months.  The scheduling priority of the site visits is being determined by review of prior assessment reports and PT performances history, with labs where the report suggests they may not have been properly assessed being scheduled earliest.  Many of the California labs also hold other ISO/IEC 17025 and/or Department of Defense or Department of Energy Environmental Laboratory Accreditation (ELAP) accreditations in addition to NELAP, providing an additional level of assurance.

Most of the NELAP Accreditation Bodies (ABs) will be able to transition the laboratories’ secondary accreditations smoothly, now that the new primary certificates are in hand.  A few NELAP ABs require that the lab has undergone its site assessment before they can issue secondary accreditation based on the new primary’s certificate.  NELAP's communication with the California labs urged them to contact each of their secondary accreditations promptly, so that labs should now be aware if possible short lapses in their secondary accreditations might occur, and would have had the chance to seek a different AB to avoid that situation.  In addition, many NELAP ABs did pro-actively reach out to the CA labs holding secondary accreditations in their particular state to ensure that their requirements and timelines were clearly communicated.

CDPH informed NELAP that secondary certificates issued by CDPH will continue to be recognized until their expiration date in 2014 (CDPH renews these annually.)  Regrettably, NELAP recognizes this will likely require the labs that previously held secondary accreditations with CDPH to apply for California ELAP (in-state only) certification.

NELAP is exceedingly grateful to each and every one of the TNI Proficiency Testing (PT) Providers who quickly and accurately provided summaries of the California labs' PT information to assist with the transition to a new primary AB.

EPA Region 9 was part of the California Evaluation Team and the Regional Offices were kept fully informed of the progress of the evaluation and the withdrawal of CDPH from NELAP.

TNI sincerely hopes that California will re-apply to become a NELAP AB once its organizational location in the state executive branch is resolved and managers are in place in that new structure.

Anyone that has any questions regarding TNI's efforts should contact the TNI Executive Director, Jerry Parr at 817-598-1624 or jerry.parr@nelac-institute.org, or the chair of the NELAP AC, Aaren Alger at 717-346-8212 or aaalger@pa.gov.