Successful Air Sampling: Three Simple Tips From a Former Stack Tester
August 31, 2021
By: Trenton Lee
Enthalpy is one of the leading labs for the environmental analysis of samples generated from source testing. Part of our success in air testing comes from the depth of experience of our project managers, with many having worked professionally in stack testing before crossing over to analytical testing. That duality of knowledge allows us to understand better and help our customers.
In this blog, we’re taking that field experience and sharing our best tips to ensure you are met with success when submitting air samples to the lab. Here’s where our story begins – the sample drop-off. You might think, “What’s so hard about this? I give you my samples, and you analyze them, end of story!” And most of the time, that is the case, but you’d be surprised at how often missing small details can lead to challenges and headaches—most of which you can control and avoid.
Check out our list below of the most frequently overlooked items when samples arrive at the lab. Getting these three simple steps right is the key to unlocking a seamless sample exchange:
#1 The COC – Let’s make it official
When filling out a COC, detail is the key. Especially when samples are shipping, and you can’t be there in person for the exchange. The COC will tell us exactly what analysis we will be doing on the samples, down to the method. For example, we can analyze Formaldehyde using three different methods. In addition to your standard sample ID, dates, etc., you always want to ensure and clarify method requirements, analyses/analytes, turnaround times, reporting, and any notes you wish to add to make things as clear and specific as possible. Enthalpy offers some standard COC templates that can help guide you to what information is needed (link below), but we don’t mind if you use your own too.
A clear and descriptive COC will help ensure a swift experience, free of delays, so that we can get you the end product: results…I know those clients are asking for them! Lastly, and most importantly of all, you’ll want to make sure the sample IDs on the COC match the sample labels, which brings me to my next point.
#2 Sample Labels – Hello, my name is “Unit 3- Run 1.”
The sample label is like a nametag that helps us to identify every sample uniquely. And is a principal place of confusion we routinely see when samples arrive. Maybe there are two samples with the same ID; perhaps the writing isn’t legible, or a label isn’t even there. It’s very easy for samples to get mixed up and create more work for both the sampler and the lab. A quick phone call can often clear things up, but what happens when things get a little more complicated? If there is no way to identify the source of a sample, then it essentially becomes useless.
We understand – labels get wet, ripped, and smeared all the time. That’s why it’s all the more important to take extra precautions. Making sure that your labels stay protected from wet coolers or those leaky acetone squirt bottles is crucial. Still, mistakes happen. Pro tip: Add a second label. In addition to a primary label, it helps to write the sample ID elsewhere, for instance, on a jar lid or the back of a petri dish. Most tubes or jars come printed with a unique ID number. If that number has a record on the COC, this adds one more way to identify the sample should something happen to the label during transport.
#3 Sample Transport – Road Trip!
Speaking of transport, we’ve arrived at our final tip! After all your hard work and the long hours out in the field, let’s make sure your sample comes in one piece. Give those samples the first-class treatment they deserve! I’m talking about a nice cushy, comfortable seat with the temperature set just right.
Whether you are sending bags, cans, tubes, jars, vials, or door handles—yes, we have received those before—always ensure they are adequately secured and at the right temperature. Whether samples are being shipped or dropped off, or our courier is picking them up, pack them with plenty of padding and ensure they can’t move around or clatter into one another, especially when shipping. Haven’t you seen Ace Ventura?
Another aspect of shipping samples that is common to overlook is timing. When we talk about samples with short hold times or cold temperature requirements, you’ll want to make sure you spend the extra few bucks for that priority overnight service. If I were to ship my chilled samples in the middle of July, and then they spend 3-days riding in the back of a hot truck, well, I think you get the point.
For More Information
Enthalpy understands that the samples we receive daily represent a lot of time, money, and just plain old hard work out in the field. Following these tips will help ensure that your samples arrive safely and clearly labeled so we can do our job and provide you the best data and keep you compliant.
If you have any questions about air analysis or sample handling, start a conversation with us here.
You can download a copy of our Chain of Custody (COC) here.
Trenton Lee is a Project Manager at our Durham lab. His previous experience includes eight years in stack testing which included pushing probes out in the field as a technician, and project management experience. Trenton received his B.S. in Environmental Technology and Management from North Carolina State University.