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March 10, 2015
Understanding EPA's proposed CWA analytical testing methods
By Emily Remmel, JD, Legal Editor

Why the change?

Occasionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will propose changes to the analytical methods for industrial and municipal testing of effluent. EPA’s recently proposed method changes will allow greater flexibility in selecting which approved testing method is right for a given circumstance. In addition, updating the analytical testing methods will improve data quality and reflect current advancements in scientific methodology and technology.

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Required NPDES analytical testing

The Clean Water Act (CWA) makes it unlawful to discharge any pollutant into navigable waters, unless the discharge complies with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit (33 U.S.C. 1311(a)). The regulated community is required to follow EPA’s analytical testing methods in 40 CFR 136 to remain compliant with their NPDES permit and the CWA. Testing and analyzing pollutant data is pivotal to the NPDES permitting scheme.

Knowing the basic proposed changes

The proposed rule may, at first, seem overwhelmingly complex. However, there are three basic components within EPA’s proposed changes. Specifically, these components are:

  1. New and revised standard methods
  2. Addition of six nationwide alternate testing procedures (ATPs)
  3. Revisions to the definition and procedure for determining the method detection limit (MDL)

First, the new and revised methods modernize the current methods to today’s advancements in analytical technology. Many of the proposed changes are minor corrections to typographical errors as well as nonsubstantive changes to the Standard Methods found in 40 CFR Part 136. However, there are a few proposed changes that are substantive.

Second, the addition of six nationwide ATPs allows the regulated community greater flexibility in selecting an appropriate testing method. The current methods require developers to apply and receive EPA approval to deviate from existing approved methods.

Last, the proposed MDL revisions address contamination and improve variability issues. Specifically, the revisions would require laboratories to evaluate the MDL to account for background contamination. Laboratories using multiple instruments must calculate the MDL using spiked and blank samples from each instrument rather than from the most sensitive. In addition, laboratories would be required to test MDL values every quarter instead of annually.

How is the regulated community affected?

This proposed rule will affect facilities that are required to conduct monitoring to comply with NPDES permits. Entities can include industrial or commercial facilities as well as municipal publically owned treatment works (POTWs). The proposed rule may potentially affect states, territorial, and Indian tribe governments that administer the NPDES permitting program, those providing certification, or those conducting NPDES compliance monitoring.

What should you do?

Check your NPDES permit to determine whether these proposed changes affect your current analytical testing methods. If such methods are affected, consider altering your testing program to be prepared for upcoming changes. These proposed regulations are not controversial and are likely to be finalized.


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