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.