Electronic Data Standardization

Many commercial environmental laboratories in the U.S. generate over fifty different electronic data deliverable (EDD) formats, ranging from simple CSV files to complex XML files and schemas (click here for typical examples). The variation in formats is driven largely by regulators. Drinking water laboratories, for example, report data to the USEPA Office of Water in the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) format. The federal version varies from the versions consumed by many of the state agencies.

Non-standardization is costly for both data generators and data consumers. Because of the enormous complexity and variability, many environmental laboratories shifted emphasis from the quality of the analytical work they perform to the breadth of EDDs they provide. Indeed, one of the most common reasons environmental laboratories replace their LIMS is because the legacy system simply could not effectively capture and manage the data (particularly QC data) required of many of these EDDs and external environmental data systems. Public health and environmental agencies manage data silos containing terabytes of data, with very little interoperability between them.

On August 9, 2012, a special session at the National Environmental Monitoring Conference brought together a panel of experts representing a broad range of environmental data generators and consumers with a diverse set of needs and standards. The objectives of the session were to discuss the needs of various federal and state agencies, the work that has already been done in comparing needs and standards, and the feasibility of converging on a single “super standard” for environmental data exchange. A similar strategy was executed successfully in the healthcare industry, leading to global adoption of the HL7 standard.

A Single Environmental EDD? - NEMC 2012

The roundtable discussion on the topic of environmental data standardization at NEMC proved an interesting discussion among data generators and data consumers. The objectives of the session were to discuss the needs of various state and federal agencies, the work that has already been done in comparing program needs and standards, and the feasibility of converging on a single “super standard” for environmental data exchange. Panelists included:

  • Charles Kovatch, USEPA/Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds (WQX/STORET standards)
  • Jack Krueger, APHL (ERLN EDD Type 1t/2 standards)
  • Anand Mudambi, USEPA/Superfund (SEDD standards)
  • Allison Naquin, Gulf Coast Analytical Laboratories (private laboratory environmental data generator)
  • Robert Whitehead, ChemWare (LIMS supplier, data generator)
  • Michael Wichman, Environmental Health/State Hygienic Laboratory at University of Iowa (PHL data generator)

Robert Whitehead moderated and led off the session with a presentation from the private sector perspective.

Below is a summary of the material presented and discussed during the session - all material is presented here with permission. Presentations may be downloaded by clicking on the links below - they are also provided as silent video clips to make them easily previewable online.