Behind the Scenes: Hilton Checks on Data
EPA’s New England Beacon, our blog, addresses issues related to environmental protection and appreciation in New England. We talk about programs in the EPA New England office and places we love across New England. Occasionally, we will introduce you to some of the people who work in our office. These columns will share the jobs and joys of EPA employees. You will hear what we do at work to protect public health and the environment in New England, but you’ll also learn a little bit about who we are as people. I look forward to getting to know many of my colleagues at the same time I introduce them to you.
By Amy Miller
Believe it or not, not all of the work at EPA is as sexy as sludge and superfund sites. Some of the work may not make national news, or even get into small town newspapers. But the less visible jobs are often just as essential to our mission of protecting the environment and the public health.
For instance, there are the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 requirements. Decidedly unsexy. But it is the job of Maureen Hilton in the Office of Environmental Measurement and Evaluation – a fancy way to say the EPA laboratory in Chelmsford – to make sure EPA New England is meeting these standards.
Before I tell you what the heck that all means, let me just say that Hilton, a quality assurance officer, was recently named regional employee of the month for the great job she did preparing for a three-day audit of the lab’s efforts to meet these ISO standards. Maureen worked diligently with managers and staff to correct problems found in earlier audits, to ensure standard operating procedures were updated, and to organize all required documentation. As a result, auditors found only four minor problems, which have already been corrected. And this was Maureen’s first year on the job.
So what in the world are ISO standards in general and ISO/IEC 17025:2005 requirements in particular?
The International Standards Organization, an independent group, develops worldwide standards that are meant to be applied in a consistent manner for all sorts of scientific work – classifying materials, manufacturing and supplying products, testing and analysis, the use of terminology and the provision of services.
The standards are meant to make manufacturing and supplying products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner; help with trade; provide government with a consistent technical base for health, safety and environmental laws; and assess how well organizations conform to the standards.
In other words, the ISO standards make it so we are all competing and being graded on the same playing field.
These standards are not laws, but are voluntarily followed by government and private organizations so they will be credible around the world. For one example, 175 experts from 45 countries and organizations formulated the 14064 International Green House Gas accounting and verification standard. These experts wanted a clear, consistent directive in reporting greenhouse-gas emissions.
Now, on to the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 requirements. These standards set the requirements for testing and calibrations in laboratories. Labs will use ISO/IEC 17025:2005 in developing their quality systems and customers can be assured that a lab that is accredited by a third party auditor is competent.
As Hilton explains it, when you are certified as complying with ISO standards, you gain a measure of respect and credibility. After only a year in her current job as Quality Assurance Officer Hilton was thrilled to have the audit go so well.
An environmental engineer by training, Hilton worked as an analyst in microbiology most of her 21 years at EPA. She started as an intern while in college at WPI in Worcester and has been in the lab since then. Mostly she did lab and field work testing water for bacteria, as in fecal matter. A year ago she switched to her job as quality assurance officer in charge of quality control regarding microbiology, chemistry and field work.
Her current job keeps her pouring mainly over numbers and papers. Although she misses her time in the lab and in the field, Hilton is glad to be expanding her knowledge to include chemistry and field methods.
In any event, she gets lots of time outside with her husband and three young children – hitting the White Mountains, the beaches of Maine or even the trails near her backyard in Townsend, Mass.
Amy Miller is in the office of public affairs at EPA New England. She is editor of EPA’s New England Beacon, the regional EPA blog.
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