NELAC and NELAP – What Do These Acronyms Mean for the Environmental Laboratory?

Scientist collecting river water in beaker in green surrounding for NELAP environmental lab accreditation.

What Is NELAC?

NELAC stands for the National Environmental Laboratories Accreditation Conference. Established by the EPA in 1995 as a means to bring consistency in environmental laboratory accreditation programs, NELAC strives for consistent standards for environmental laboratories through the development of consensus standards based on ISO requirements, such as ISO/IEC 17025.

What Is NELAP?

The NELAC Institute, or TNI, promotes data defensibility by promoting quality and reliability in environmental testing. To achieve this goal, TNI created the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, or NELAP. This accreditation program is a national set of standards accredited at the state level that is geared towards improving environmental testing data used by federal and state agencies. NELAP is a national program with certification establishing consistency in testing methods across participating states. Recognized states include Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.

What Are the NELAP Requirements?

The NELAP standard has seven modules with requirements for different types of testing from sample collection through to the analysis process and reporting results:

  1. Module 1 – Proficiency Testing
  2. Module 2 – Quality Systems General Requirements
  3. Module 3 – Quality Systems for Asbestos Testing
  4. Module 4 – Quality Systems for Chemical Testing
  5. Module 5 – Quality Systems for Microbiological Testing
  6. Module 6 – Quality Systems for Radiochemical Testing
  7. Module 7 – Quality Systems for Toxicity Testing

Requirements include chain of custody, data integrity, equipment calibration, selection of methods, limits of detection and quantification, demonstration of capability, complete data package and assessor training requirements. Management system requirements, such as internal audits and management reviews are also a part of the standard. Additionally, laboratories are required to participate in proficiency testing offered by accredited proficiency test providers as part of the National Environmental Proficiency Testing Program, or NEPTP. Successful participation in proficiency testing promotes further confidence in the validity of results generated by the environmental laboratory.

How Can Laboratories Receive NELAP Accreditation?

Laboratories can receive NELAP accreditation either through a recognized state accreditation body agency or other non-governmental accreditation bodies, such as ANAB, if the state does not have an accreditation body agency. In addition to the NELAP requirements, laboratories participating in the program are also accredited to ISO/IEC 17025, with the additional option for accreditation to the Department of Defense (DoD) Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) and Department of Energy Consolidated Audit Program – Accreditation Program (DOECAP-AP). The coordinated approach to environmental programs gives ANAB-accredited laboratories mechanisms for greater responsiveness to laboratories’ changing needs. ANAB can adapt to any scope required by the laboratory and is not limited to only accredit to analytes regulated by state entities through regulation.

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