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Certified Reference Materials

Our inventory of Certified Reference Materials (CRMs) encompasses natural waters, including drinking and rain waters for major ions and nutrients, fortified trace element, total phosphorus and mercury standards and naturally contaminated sediments. All CRMs are prepared using the ISO 30 series Guides. The CRMs are stable, homogenous and well-characterized matrix reference materials and are representative of environmental conditions. Certified values are determined by repetitive analysis using different methodologies in one or more accredited analytical laboratories. CRMs are essential in the assessment of the accuracy and reliability of laboratory measurement processes. They are useful in applications such as multi-agency data comparability studies; evaluation of newly developed methodologies; inter- and intra-laboratory quality control; analytical contract selection; environmental research; environmental monitoring and surveillance.

Certified Reference Materials

  1. Certified Reference Waters for Major Ions and Nutrients (24 parameters)
  2. Certified Reference Waters for Trace Elements (25 elements)
  3. Acid Rock Drainage-Reference Water for Trace Elements
  4. Reference Waters for Total Phosphorus and for Mercury
  5. Reference Sediments for Trace Elements (12 elements certified & 29 for information)

For program information, please contact:

Haig Agemian
Chief, Information and Quality Management
Emergencies Operational Analytical Laboratories and Research Support
Water Science and Technology Directorate
Environment Canada
867 Lakeshore Rd., P. O. Box 5050,
Burlington, Ontario, Canada, L7R 4A6
Tel: 905-336-4679
Fax: 905-336-6404

For orders, technical information and product information contact:

e-mail CRMsales
tel: (905) 336-4653
Fax: (905) 336-8914

More details on CRMs

The Water Science and Technology (S & T) Directorate conducts research and development programs in the aquatic sciences in response to Environment Canada's obligations. These programs deliver a wide variety of products to national and international agencies throughout the world. Activities include collaborations on many issues of environmental research and monitoring, and the development of Certified Reference Materials (CRMs) for use in analytical standardization and laboratory accreditation programs. The Quality Management (QM) group of the National Laboratory for Environmental Testing, Water S & T Directorate is responsible for these quality management products and services.

The QM Certified Reference Materials are matrix materials that represent whole samples from various locations across North America. All matrix CRMs are prepared using the ISO 30 series Guides, following strict technical requirements.

These CRMs, provided for environmental analyses, are available on a cost-recovery basis. A wide selection of natural waters are offered, including drinking and rain waters, fortified trace element standards and sediments that have proven to be beneficial for QA/QC programs.

Certified Reference Waters

These waters are representative samples from Canada's many lakes and rivers, and include natural and acid rain water samples. The trace element standards are necessarily fortified natural samples.

The QM group provides a sizeable repository of reference materials to analytical laboratories and interagency programs. Certification of these natural water CRMs is achieved through comprehensive inter laboratory proficiency testing (PT) studies. Candidate CRM samples are submitted to laboratories throughout the world. A minimum of three studies are used to quantify the statistics for the certificates and to verify the stability and homogeneity of the CRMs. The participant laboratories use a variety of performance based methods and many are accredited and traceable to other CRMs.

These CRMs are excellent representations of varying environmental conditions. They are uniquely useful for analytical environmental laboratories, including those specializing in drinking water testing. All CRMs are prepared under strict procedures to preserve their natural state and conditions.

Major ions and Nutrients in Water

Natural waters are collected in bulk from many diverse lakes and rivers across Canada. These bulk samples are clarified by high speed centrifugation and filtered through 0.2 µm membrane filters. All unpreserved natural waters are stored in a dark cold room and have shown good stability over many years. The certified values for the water samples are derived from inter laboratory proficiency testing (PT) studies. "For Information" values indicate insufficient data exists to meet CRM certification criteria. A more detailed report on the methods used in our PT studies for specific parameters is available upon request.

Metals in Water

Water samples are obtained from locations across Canada. They are centrifuged and filtered through a 45 µm glass fiber filter before preservation with 0.2% nitric acid. To obtain the required design values for certain elements, some waters may be fortified.

Total Phosphorus and Mercury in Water

Background waters are sampled as for Major Ions and Nutrients. The Total Phosphorus waters are fortified to varying levels up to 1 ppm and preserved with 0.2% sulfuric acid. The Mercury waters are fortified to various levels up to 0.5 ppb and preserved with 1% sulfuric acid and 0.05% dichromate. Values provided for these two parameters are reference values only.

Certified Reference Sediments for Trace Elements

The reference materials include naturally contaminated sediments with certified values for trace elements including mercury, selenium and arsenic. Information values for recoverable and leachable metal concentrations are also provided.

These sediment samples originate from various locations in the Great Lakes basin and provide a wide range of sediment types and contaminant levels. The 100 g samples are freeze-dried, and ground to less than 200 mesh particle size. Sample homogeneity within and between bottles has been established in research studies.

Selected sediments for persistent and trace elements include a large assortment of sediments from pristine and polluted areas.

Reference values are obtained from multiple analyses using a minimum of two independent methodologies from two or more recognized environmental testing laboratories. The contaminant data are confirmed by inter laboratory comparison studies.

The reference sediments for trace metal analyses were prepared using the facilities of the Canada Centre for Mineral and Energy Technology in Ottawa. They are provided in 25-50 g subsample sizes with both certified and information values for major and minor elements and for toxic trace metals. The list of certified elements has added information values for recoverable and for leachable metal concentrations.

Selection of Sediment CRMs

When selecting a sediment CRM for trace metal analysis, three important factors to consider are: the target concentrations of the analytes of interest, the method(s) used to obtain the reference values (e.g., total vs. partial digestion techniques), and how well the CRM matrix matches that of the routine samples. For example, silicate minerals in soils and sediments are typically highly resistant to leaching, while carbonate minerals are readily dissolved. In addition, metals adsorbed on clay minerals are more readily leached than metals inherent in the clay mineral. Thus, the matrix effect can be significant, particularly when using a partial or incomplete method to dissolve silica rich sediments or soils. The recoveries for many elements show considerable variability, not only between different leaching or digestion media, but also between different matrix compositions.

The certified values have been compiled from multiple analyses using complete or "total" dissolution methods. For the reasons listed above, certification of the elemental composition of the sediments will be for 'total' trace metal concentrations only. Information values have been provided for 'recoverable metals' and for 'leachable metals' in these same reference sediments along with a brief description of the methods used to obtain these measurement results.

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