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Quality Management: Critical to Sound Science

Posted on Monday, December 21st, 2020 | Posted in News

In a year of disruptions precipitated by COVID-19, NEIWPCC staff members were successfully able to carry out five quality assurance field assessments. Four of the five were completed with safety protocols, adhering to in-person COVID-19 restrictions.

NEIWPCC’s Quality Management Program—a requirement of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Quality Program—safeguards the scientific integrity of all of our environmental data projects, regardless of how a project is funded.

Projects collecting or analyzing data for decision making are required to have an approved quality assurance project plan, known as a QAPP, to help ensure high-quality data, yielding reliable and useful results.

NEIWPCC conducts field assessments to ensure that all approved procedures outlined in a quality assurance project plan are being followed. This year’s assessments included projects covering:

  • The planning and design of a bog restoration project in Freetown, Massachusetts.
  • A municipal road stream crossings resiliency project in Saugerties, New York.
  • The development of a data collection and management protocol for potential restoration sites in Bethlehem, New York.
  • Invasive mussel impact on native freshwater mussel communities in Lake Champlain (Vermont).
  • An aquatic invasive species survey, map creation, management plan and boat steward initiative in Bristol, Vermont.

What Happens During a Field Assessment?

Typically, a NEIWPCC staff member associated with the project accompanies individuals from the various organizations carrying out project site work. The day is documented with photos and descriptions of what efforts are being completed. Details on data collection, log sheets, and the geographical areas are all captured and included in a formal report to NEIWPCC senior staff, and included in a year-end annual report to EPA.

If an issue with an approved data collection process is observed, NEIWPCC is quick to respond with a variety of actions, which may include issuing a stop work order and requesting other corrective actions that might entail a revision to the QAPP, or additional data verification procedures, among others.

For the bog restoration project, NEIWPCC Environmental Analyst and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program Staff Scientist Courtney Schmidt accompanied project staff on March 12 for a day of geotechnical investigations, including soil boring, a technique used to survey soil by taking several shallow sediment cores out of the ground. In this case, the data collected from the borings are being used to assess what materials to employ in the construction of several public access points throughout the site.

Engineering consultant gather data during NEIWPCC field assessment using a soil auger to gather soil samples.

Above: a project consultant from the engineering firm, MMI operating an auger to conduct soil borings at the restoration site. Below: All of the data recorded to the soil log (left) is also captured on the cap of the soil sample. This procedure gives a back-up for data in case the jars are separated from data sheet.

 

Project member holding a soil specimen jar with data written on it. Jar is used for data collection during the field assessment.

A picture of the data log used in the NEIWPCC field assessment.

Photos and descriptions of the data collection process were taken and recorded along with the completion of the NEIWPCC Field Assessment data sheet and incorporated into the assessment report.

In September, NEIWPCC Environmental Analyst and Lake Champlain Basin Program Aquatic Invasive Species Management Coordinator Meg Modley accompanied a staff member from the Lewis Creek Association to a field assessment at Bristol Pond in Moncton, Vermont to assess a boat steward program to inspect watercraft and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Modley conducted another assessment in August for a project investigating the impact the zebra mussel has on native freshwater mussels in Lake Champlain.

NEIWPCC staff members Daniel Miller, and Megan Lung, both of whom work with the Hudson River Estuary Program habitat and stream restoration efforts, each conducted field assessments in August.

Over the last fiscal year, Peter Zaykoski, the manager of NEIWPCC’s quality assurance program, and other designated staff members authorized to review QAPPs, reviewed and approved 48 QAPPs. NEIWPCC has reviewed and approved more than 440 QAPPs since the program was first approved by EPA Region 1 in 2001.

“With PPE, social distancing, and transportation protocols in place, NEIWPCC was able to continue the important work of conducting field assessments,” said Zaykoski. “These assessments ensure that our projects are generating data of known and sufficient quality. We are especially grateful for the work our staff did to adapt and complete the assessments in a year like no other.”

Additional Information

NEIWPCC Responds to Potential Changes to EPA Quality Policy & Procedure

NEIWPCC Quality Management Program

U.S. EPA Quality Management Program