Groundwater Monitoring Analyses at Caltest Analytical Laboratory

Caltest excels at analyses of low levels of pollutants in groundwaters. Our staff leaders (seven) have 16-24 years at this laboratory specializing in compliance analyses. Half of our full time staff has 10 or more years experience here. We have very low employee turnover in a field known for high turnover.

Caltest is a leader in the use of EPA required analytical methods. Our performance evaluation studies are excellent over a period of more than twenty years. We are the commercial lab of choice in our area, and have been the leading Clean Water Act lab in California for twenty years. We are recipients of four awards from the California Water Environment Association for our services, and have participated in numerous monitoring studies scrutinized by government and industry experts. Our lab primarily runs water samples for lower levels of contaminants, which helps in keeping the system optimized for low levels of reporting without cross contamination or carry-over from one sample to another. Our experience includes DoD, DOE, water and wastewater districts and landfills, including various levels of reporting results, and quality control, both hardcopy and electronic data deliverables.

Some of the ways we excel at Groundwater Analyses:

Our pesticide analytical work is conducted using mass spectrometers. We have ended the debate over whether detections by conventional detectors are really the target analyte or interferences. Mass Spectrometer data is fundamentally stronger to identify the pollutant in the groundwater. Caltest is a leader in adopting more sensitive method refinements for groundwater monitoring, and conducting the work in a defensible manner. We have conventional analyte lists and custom lists using the mass spectrometers.
Caltest is the only certified commercial analytical laboratory providing this level of data confidence at these reporting levels with this level of certification.

Collision Cell is an ICPMS metals instrumentation advancement for reducing matrix based interferences in trace metals analyses. Almost all matrix interference in ICPMS results in overestimation of the analyte concentration which is problematic for regulatory compliance use. Caltest was the first lab to explore the collision cell improvements in this region, and did extensive demonstrations of its capabilities at our own expense to prove this technique before recommending it to our clients. We served as the introduction of the technique to the local EPA Region 9 QA staff, and obtained the first letters of authorization to use this process for compliance work. This advancement was not demanded by clients, but researched by us, demonstrated here in real matrices, communicated in our in-house seminars and training events, and finally made routine for all our ICPMS work that is not for drinking water, where it is not approved yet. This has been a nice success story demonstrating our interest in offering the best techniques available, and acting as an early adopter of instrument or process advances that will improve the data quality of client samples. We were the first and still one of the few to provide all ICPMS metals by collision cell. Use of collision cell dramatically reduces the positive quantitation bias associated with interferences. Groundwater monitoring analyses by collision cell will handle matrix interferences better than conventional ICPMS alone. Challenge matrices can be spiked to explore if the collision cell addresses your particular matrix issues.

About Caltest:

  • Caltest has been serving the San Francisco Bay to Sacramento California regions since 1982 with the same ownership.
  • A commercial analytical laboratory providing analyses of pollutants by EPA and Standard Methods protocols in groundwaters and other matrices requiring a clean, low background laboratory.
  • A professional services organization proficient in complex analyses of volatile and semivolatile organics, pesticides, explosives, trace metals, nutrients, anions, and microbiology. Most groundwater analytes are run here in-house.
  • Caltest has over 90% client retention, long term staff, and excellent reputation among clients, especially clients who work in labs themselves, or have worked in labs.  Caltest clients appreciate what it takes to consistently produce quality data.
  • Electronic Reporting that makes your groundwater monitoring management more efficient; data packages that are more user friendly to your project chemists in their review.



Management Philosophy

Many labs have come and gone since groundwater monitoring became big in the 1980s. Caltest is still responsibly providing clients reliable data and good customer service since 1982.  Caltest is a well managed, well equipped, conservatively operated laboratory.  Long-term client satisfaction and consistent responsiveness are key elements of our business plan.  Caltest has maintained steady growth with an excellent reputation for service and data quality.  The lab has continued to re-invest in cutting edge instrumentation, staff and facility. 


Our company has nice people to work with, is environmentally responsible, technologically competent, ethical, accountable and customer service responsive. We believe in service to our community. We start first by doing our jobs ably. We improve the environmental monitoring profession by giving back by means of hosting and participating in many educational seminars and conferences. We host tours of college students and allow motivated high school chemistry students to conduct analyses here with their teacher in special projects.

We always want to make sure that the analyses we provide are meeting the intent for which the sample was collected. We know groundwater monitoring can be the subject of legal conflicts and regulatory compliance concerns. Our lab has an excellent reputation for generating legally defensible data. We can help you develop a project specific Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) to optimize the analyses of your groundwaters to best suit your project needs.

All staff sign and abide by an ethics and integrity agreement regarding data handling practices, a confidentiality agreement, and an agreement to abide by the protocols and policies of the Quality Assurance Manual, and the employee handbook.

Our mission statement states that Caltest exists for the purpose of providing quality data, providing a good work environment for the employees, and providing a reasonable return to its investors.  We believe that it is very unlikely that a lab can long produce consistent quality if the staff is unstable, unhappy, or affected by bad morale.  We strive to make Caltest a good place to work, and a good place to work with.

If you have ever worked with a lab that was not a good operation, you will enjoy the contrast in the attention we place on meeting your project objectives from the bottle order for each well, all the way through the analytical reports, electronic reporting and invoicing.


Caltest is a State of California and Federal Small Business and a certified Woman Owned Business

Company Insurance provisions include comprehensive liability and Errors and Omissions coverage.

A Health and Safety Program is in place and complies with the Federal Chemical Hygiene Plan requirements and the OSHA requirements.

Certifications and Accreditations

Caltest is certified by the:

  • National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program through the State of Oregon (ORELAP) for Solid Waste and Non-potable water testing.
  • State of California Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP) for Drinking Water, Waste water, and Hazardous waste testing.

Caltest participates in the EPA WS and WP proficiency programs for drinking water and wastewater, as well as PE programs for the various certifications we hold.

Caltest’s objective is to provide clients with a consistent level of high quality service.  Our full service project management provides clients with the following:

  • A dedicated Project Manager as a consistent point of contact for the client during all phases of the analytical process.
  • Technical information regarding the laboratory’s capabilities: including field services, laboratory operations, correct sampling protocols, containers and preservatives, sample holding times and shipping requirements, analytical methods and detection limits available.
  • Price quotations from our fee schedule with project specific discounts based on sample frequency, batch volume or total project size.
  • Coordination with the laboratory regarding specific requests to ensure those clients’ needs are satisfied.
  • Up-to-date information regarding the status of samples in process and answers to questions regarding analytical results and quality control data.
  • The assurance that client specific Quality Assurance Project Plan criteria are met; and that special reporting or invoicing requirements will be fulfilled in accordance with client provided instructions.

Caltest’s Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is used internally to schedule and record analyses as well as for producing reports, both hardcopy and electronic downloads.

Laboratory Notebooks are set up to document reagents used, QC and analytical data, as well as analyst notes and comments.  All data is traceable from point of origination to data approval and reporting for full data integrity and traceability.  Logs of all chemicals and standards preparation are kept throughout the lab.  All hardcopy data is kept at least five years.  If data is to be reported not meeting our QC criteria it is footnoted with explanation as to the limitation of the data.

Caltest has used a Laboratory Information Management System since about 1991, and providing all reporting directly from LIMS since that time. The current LIMS system acquires data directly from most instruments and balances and holds the raw data for expression in any number of report formats. The highly automated data handling has made data entry errors very rare. Many groundwater monitoring programs employ quality control chemists to review supporting data packages. These are prepared in accordance with your Quality Assurance Project Plan. 


Our NELAP certification assures you that our entire operation has a better documentation structure and a more defensible data product. In addition to our voluntarily certifying to a higher level through NELAP at a higher cost to ourselves, we also excel in our compliance with the Department of Energy’s Consolidated Audit Program which involves six people dedicating three days to auditing our facility and operation in minute detail. This helps us to be a better lab ‘behind the scenes’ which is part of why our data and reputation is as good as it is.

We also bring in outside consultants to audit our program and to train our Quality Assurance team for continuous improvement. In the last two years we have received NELAC training and an independent audit from Quality Assurance Solutions, and training in conducting our own in-house audits from A2LA.

As detailed in our Quality Assurance Manual, each analytical batch includes a Method Blank, Laboratory Control Standard, Matrix Spike and Matrix Spike Duplicate. In the event that the laboratory does not receive adequate sample volume to perform a Matrix Spike/Matrix Spike Duplicate a Laboratory Control Standard Duplicate will be prepped and analyzed. The Laboratory Control Standard Duplicate is reportable upon request. Sample batches are limited to up to 20 client samples that have been prepared during the same day. Ideally you will collect the additional volume required to allow for project specific matrix spike data for your groundwater monitoring program.


Detection Limits and Analytical Methods

All reporting limits associated with calibration curves are at or above the lowest calibration standard that was used to meet calibration criteria for the analytical method. No data is normally reported outside of the calibration range. Exceptions to this are when MDL reporting is requested and then those detections between the reporting limit and the MDL are flagged as estimates (‘J’ flagged). When a sample concentration is higher than our calibration range, it is usually re-analyzed at dilution, but in some cases may be 'E' flagged to indicate a value calculated above the highest calibration standard. This does not happen often, as standard practice is to re-analyze at a greater dilution.

Analytical methods are chosen to offer the most robust, compliant data we can.

We consistently re-invest in instrumentation to offer the best sensitivity applicable to EPA methods. We believe that the instrumentation brands and consumables we use are the best available for the analyses we conduct. We do not consider discount instrumentation or consumables at the expense of analytical accuracy or precision or specificity of analysis.

Caltest uses improved techniques such as collision and reaction cell ICPMS for the most interferant-free trace metals analyses; longer path-length CVAA for more sensitive sediment and influent mercury analyses; lowest level total and methyl mercury by atomic fluorescence; and chlorinated pesticides by micro-Electron Capture Detection with simultaneous Mass Spectral confirmation. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only commercial lab in California providing methyl mercury analyses in-house, and the only lab confirming all pesticides by Mass Spectrometry.

Caltest is NELAP and ELAP accredited, and audited every year by a top team of laboratory operations specialists from the Department of Energy. Caltest's pursuit of providing optimized monitoring data has lead to early adoption of available technology including: class 100 clean prep conditions for metals, ICPMS with high matrix sample introduction for better matrix tolerance; pesticides by selected ion monitoring mass spec, and negative chemical ionization mass spec.
The lab has very experienced analysts and a low employee turnover. A rigorous quality system and robust LIMS add to making Caltest a leader in commercial labs providing compliance monitoring for environmental analytes.

Caltest's responding to new wastewater related regulations resulted in being first or among the first commercial labs in California to provide:

  • low level total mercury by EPA 1631,
  • ICPMS for wastewater compliance analyses
  • Low level Cyanide reporting for wastewater
  • Methyl Mercury analyses
  • California Toxics Rule/State Implementation Plan compliant analyses
  • Mass Spectral confirmation of Chlorinated Pesticides at low reporting levels
  • Chlorinated pesticide with simultaneous Mass Spectral confirmation
  • Pyrethroid pesticides
  • ICPMS by collision cell for all analytes, reaction cell for selenium
  • Pyrethroid pesticides by Negative Chemical Ionization Mass Spec.

The relevance of these firsts is that the lab is responsive to what clients need, or are about to need more than any other commercial lab in California. By being first Caltest staff develops more experience in how to successfully provide the type of analyses dischargers need.

We are only in business because of people who want defensible data, with responsive customer service. Our clients tend to be people who do work in labs, or did work in labs. They know how easy it is to have errors, and what an accomplishment it is to consistently do all the details right, and have consistent documentation policies to make it all withstand regulatory scrutiny. When we do make an error, we want to own up to it and correct it. We strive to provide good data, suitable for the purpose for which it was collected, and provide responsive customer service.