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European Analytical Quality Control in support of the Water Framework Directive via the Water Information System for Europe

Final Report Summary - EAQC-WISE (European Analytical Quality Control in support of the Water Framework Directive via the Water Information System for Europe)

The European Union's Water Framework Directive (WFD) established a framework for water protection and management in order to ensure the protection, improvement and sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems across Europe. WFD implementation required that comparability of water monitoring data should be achieved at a European level. However, the water monitoring community did not share a common view on the importance of data quality and lack of awareness was frequent among decision makers.

The EAQC-WISE project aimed to change this view and facilitate the establishment of a quality control (QC) system which would improve the provision of appropriate proficiency testing (PT) activities and reference material, along with facilitation of research and training at the European level. The project major objective was to develop a sustainable quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) system for water, biota, sediment and related soil monitoring data across the European Community.

EAQC-WISE research proved that there existed various recommendable approaches for different aspects of QA/QC and sufficient institutions related to the subject. What was mostly lacking was an integrated, coherent and flexible approach to be implemented at an international level. Combinations of existing knowledge, ideas and best practices from basin to European level could provide synergies and cost efficient solutions to many problems. Thus the proposed approach was to create a system based on expert groups which could react flexibly in new situations and exploit existing structures.

National expert groups (NEGs) were proposed to include a wide variety of experts from different interrelated fields as well as stakeholders. Their activities should be formally acknowledged by the competent authority (CA), which would also select the adequate mechanism for NEG establishment. The cooperation of NEGs at an international level was promoted, through the creation of the European expert group (EEG) in order to broaden individual NEG experiences.

Both NEGs and EEG would have to deal with various tasks, each of them related to different aspects of QA/QC. EAQC-WISE identified a set of such tasks at a national and international level. Obligatory participation to such groups would be desirable to ensure involvement of all Member States (MS) and could be achieved through integration of this mechanism in WFD common implementation strategy (CIS).

Assessments of environmental quality performed under the WFD required monitoring data of appropriate quality. Hence, analytical systems of appropriate performance needed to be developed and implemented. A robust demonstration that such systems met data quality requirements was also necessary. One of the main aims of EAQC-WISE was to make recommendations on the capture, review and communication of information related to QA/QC tools. It was concluded that all MS should be encouraged to achieve a minimum standard of QC practices and of QC tools application intensity. This requirement was proposed to be addressed via NEGs, through a range of activities before and after the data collection in order to ensure quality and facilitate data communication. Compliance was planned to be evaluated via mandatory reporting requirements to the European Commission, included in CAs obligations.

In addition, the QA/QC directive required that laboratories demonstrated their competence by participation in PT schemes covering all analytes at levels of concentration representative of chemical monitoring programmes carried out under the WFD. However, EAQC-WISE pinpointed a series of gaps in the field of PT, which resulted in a series of recommendations mainly in relation to the needs of PTs harmonisation and in availability of schemes capable to analyse WFD priority substances. Two complementary approaches were proposed, namely the bottom-up and the top-down approach. Regarding the bottom-up approach, a network of PT providers to support the implementation of WFD was founded as part of the project activities and was recommended to participate as a stakeholder in the EEG. The institutional nomination of a single organiser in a top-down approach was additionally promoted in order to overcome hurdles related to specific WFD needs in cases when PT providers were unable to respond.

An assessment of the availability of certified reference materials (CRMs) for WFD chemical monitoring was carried out by the EAQC-WISE team and proved that the existing mechanisms were not sufficient to ensure the complete availability of CRMs for this purpose. Consequently, a process was designed to ensure increased availability of reference materials (RMs). A database of RMs fulfilling specific criteria was selected to be developed so as to collect information on missing or insufficient RMs. NEGs would then evaluate the identified problems and, in case unable to solve them at a national level, report them to the EEG which was nominated responsible for further actions. Solutions proposed at a European level would be communicated to the different NEGs and the other involved partied, such as monitoring laboratories.

Requirements arising from WFD implementation often created the need for the development of new tools and techniques by means of research and standardisation activities. An institutionalised procedure regarding these activities was created by the project in order to prevent duplication of efforts within the EU and to facilitate the development and implementation of harmonised methods and QA/QC tools meeting the regulations' requirements. Research needs were prioritised and an overview of available validated methods was established. A mandate was issued for development and improvement of standards in support of WFD. The need for new of improved methods, tools or standards was suggested to be reported from competent authorities to NEGs, which were responsible for information transmission to the EEG, so as to coordinate further actions. The regular involvement of both actors and stakeholders was estimated to ensure the sustainability of the above mentioned procedure.

Moreover, a survey of existing standardised methods for the determination of priority substances according to the WFD was conducted, in order to elucidate whether the existing standards were fit for the purpose of compliance checking with the proposed quality standards. The evaluation took into account characteristics such as performance criteria, application range and matrix. Based on this survey a summary of validated methods for water, sediment, soil and biota was established and a relevant list was created. The use of standardised methods was not mandatory in most cases; however it was strongly recommended by EAQC-WISE.

The necessity for availability of training services and products of appropriate quality, anchorage and consistency to WFD monitoring laboratories across the EU was unquestionable. Continuous monitoring of the existing products and assessment of innovative ones was found crucial for laboratories in order to follow the state-of-the-art. The most significant detected gaps in the field were the limited range of available languages and the locations of training providers. It was proposed that monitoring and assessment were responsibilities of the EEG.

Finally, accreditation formed the most advanced system for performing external competence assessment. A relevant European regulation had been circulated that formalised and strengthened its role. Equivalent practice of assessment in all member countries was noted as essential for accreditation effectiveness. Nevertheless, workshops organised as part of EAQC-WISE proved that this was not the case. Project recommendations aimed to create a systemic flow of information between the different stakeholders in order to achieve further harmonisation. The proposed activities included the creation of forums on both national and international levels, under the responsibility of NEGs and EEG respectively. It was estimated that an improved accreditation practice could lead to a market for QA/QC tools as well as to the development of suppliers in this area.

Even though EAQC-WISE developed framework primarily focused on chemical monitoring, the generic character of most of its recommendations and its flexibility to incorporate different existing structures allowed for its expansion and transformation to other types of monitoring under the WFD. The project outcomes were open to further refinement. The final step of the results application would be the implementation of the recommendations in national and European level, leading to a coherent system for QA/QC for WFD monitoring in Europe.