Priority Pollutant Monitoring at Caltest Analytical Laboratory

Caltest is the lab most specialized in analyses of Priority Pollutants in wastewater in California. Low-Level work in wastewater matrices with regulatory implications requires experienced chemists. 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 the leader in bringing on cutting edge, EPA required and Clean Water Act compliant analytical methods. Our performance evaluation studies demonstrate analytical excellence over a period of more than twenty years. We are the commercial lab choice for most wastewater entities in our area, and have been the leading Clean Water Act (Priority Pollutants plus conventional loading parameters, nutrients and bacterial analyses) compliance lab for twenty years. We are recipients of four awards from the California Water Environment Association (CWEA) for our service.  The CWEA is the trade association of those who design, build, operate, maintain, and monitor wastewater treatment facilities and their regulated industries in California. Their endorsement is meaningful because it is from our peers in the industry who know what it takes to conduct the priority pollutant analytical compliance work properly.

Priority Pollutant Analytical Approach
Trace Metals by Collision Cell ICPMS with minimized interferences
Mercury is provided by EPA lowest level method 1631, Caltest is the most experienced
       California Commercial lab for mercury
Organics by robust, current generation quadrupole GCMS with clean, inert systems
       Volatiles optimized for most compliant analyses
Cyanide calibrated to 3 ppb, and available to 1 ppb
Dioxins are subcontracted


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 priority pollutants by EPA and Standard Methods protocols in wastewater, ambient waters, stormwaters, groundwaters, soils and sediments.
  • A professional services organization proficient in complex analyses of volatile and semivolatile organics, pesticides, explosives, trace metals, nutrients, anions, microbiology, solids and wastewater loading parameters.
  • A business with 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.


Management Philosophy

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.

We always want to make sure that the analyses we provide are meeting the intent for which the sample was collected. We are very aware that the data we provide is important and strive to be beyond reproach in analytical quality, and without partiality.

Priority Pollutant Monitoring and analyses is always for a regulation or permit. Compliance is determined, fines may be levied, lawsuits may be filed, all related to the required monitoring of pollutants. This makes it critical that the laboratory data can withstand scrutiny, and be legally defensible.  All Caltest 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.


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


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. 

Additional Low Level Wastewater Compliance Expertise

At the low levels required by current regulation, many waters still have matrix interference which can lead to errors. To enable better data quality we have invested in new GC-MS systems that produce more reliable data at the same low reporting limit. The client benefit is a much better confidence of analyte identification than is possible by the usual operation of EPA GC Methods. Caltest is the only certified commercial analytical laboratory providing this level of data confidence.

Caltest has the most experience analyzing low level mercury of any commercial lab in California. We have five trace mercury analytical systems and were early adopters of advances to mercury measurement since 1991. Our staff was among the first in the country to employ automation in the trace mercury technique of EPA method 1631, and the first in California to offer methyl mercury by EPA method 1630. 

For 'regular' requests for monitoring mercury we employ a longer path length detector for the cold vapor AA mercury analysis. This allows us to detect mercury down to 0.05μg/L even when 'low level' was not required. When lower levels are required, we use the EPA Method 1631 Atomic Fluorescence system with a reporting level of 0.5 ng/L.

Trace Metals can be run on ICP or ICPMS.  Collision Cell is an ICPMS 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 priority pollutant regulatory compliance use. Caltest was the first lab to explore the collision cell improvements to wastewater analyses 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 NPDES/ Clean Water Act 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 CWEA 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 (non-drinking water) ICPMS metals by collision cell.

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.



Our National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP) certification assures you that our entire operation has a better documentation structure and a more defensible data product than minimally required by California’s standard Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (ELAP). 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.

MDLs are reported upon request, such as in accordance with the State Implementation Plan (SIP) of the California Toxics Rule (CTR) Minimum Level (ML) reporting criteria. Since, an MDL is a calculated value of undefined precision detections between the MDL and Reporting Limit are appropriately flagged as detected but not quantified values.

Detection Limits and Analytical Methods

Caltest meets the Priority Pollutant reporting limits required for permits, and uses the Clean Water Act approved methods to do so. We comply with the Clean Water Act detection limit requirements from the analytical methods, and the determination of the MDL as described in 40CFR part 136 App. B.  We also comply with the definition of a Minimum Level as described in the California Toxics Rule and the State Implementation Plan (CTR/SIP). Caltest was the first lab in the State to meet the demanding criteria of the CTR/SIP, and has served as a subcontract lab for others needing this work for more than ten years.

 All reporting limits 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 or ‘DNQ’, the State’s term for ‘detected but not quantified’ where they acknowledge that the normal rules of analytical chemistry do not allow a defensible concentration calculation, but still require the lab to provide the quantitation below the lowest calibration standard and then flag with the ‘DNQ’ qualifier.)

Analytical methods are chosen to offer the most robust, Clean Water Act 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. Priority Pollutant analysis requires all aspects of the process to be optimized to assure sensitivity and freedom from background contamination.

Training Presentation and Seminars, Capability Milestones

Caltest has been very committed to participating in our industry by offering training opportunities to our clients, and being an early adopter of analytical improvements. Here is a summary of our accomplishments in this area since 2000, though our practice of sponsoring industry training events goes back to the early 1990s, and our analytical experience back to the 1980s..
Some Topics covered:
EPA 1669 Clean Hands/Dirty Hands Sample Collection for Trace Metals
EPA 1631 low level Mercury Analysis
EPA 1630 low level Methyl Mercury Analysis
ICPMS Collision Cell/ Reaction cell use with wastewaters
Cyanide analysis at Low Levels in wastewaters
Sampling for the (California Toxics Rule and State Implementation Plan) CTR/SIP
Enterococcus for recreational use monitoring
Ethics and Integrity in the Laboratory
Data Review, Data Inquiries and Regulatory Compliance
CWA approved analyses for Selenium
POTW methyl mercury analyses
Pyrethroid Pesticides by GCMS SIM
Pyrethroid Pesticides by GCMS SIM NCI
Pesticide Analysis with Simultaneous Mass Spec Confirmation
Mercury TMDLs in Water Board Regions 2 and 5
PCB Congener Analyses and Regulations



Caltest Analytical Laboratory is more specialized in the priority pollutant compliance monitoring needs of municipalities, regulated industries, and sewer districts than any other laboratory in California.  Caltest is more focused than any other commercial lab available in meeting the regulatory limits, by the approved methods, with the relevant certifications.  The entire organization is steeped in the compliance criteria required in the choice of analytical method, sampling, preservation, hold-times, and wastewater specific analytical issues that allow analyses at the level of interest.  There are numerous commercial labs with certifications to run wastewater approved methods in general, but none of them are as specialized for priority pollutant monitoring analyses as Caltest.

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 the leader in commercial labs providing priority pollutant and related 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 the following priority pollutant and related analyses:

  • 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 dischargers 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 low level pollutant analyses dischargers need.