National Water Quality Laboratory

Friday October 19, 2018

USGS Open-File Report 99-193

New Reporting Procedures Based on Long-Term Method Detection Levels and Some Considerations for Interpretations of Water-Quality Data Provided by the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory

Carolyn J. Oblinger Childress, William T. Foreman, Brooke F. Connor, and Thomas J. Maloney


This report describes the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory’s approach for determining long-term method detection levels and establishing reporting levels, details relevant new reporting conventions, and provides preliminary guidance on interpreting data reported with the new conventions. At the long- term method detection level concentration, the risk of a false positive detection (analyte reported present at the long-term method detection level when not in sample) is no more than 1 percent. However, at the long-term method detection level, the risk of a false negative occurrence (analyte reported not present when present at the long-term method detection level concentration) is up to 50 percent. Because this false negative rate is too high for use as a default “less than” reporting level, a more reliable laboratory reporting level is set at twice the determined long-term method detection level. For all methods, concentrations measured between the laboratory reporting level and the long-term method detection level will be reported as estimated concentrations. Non-detections will be censored to the laboratory reporting level.

Adoption of the new reporting conventions requires a full understanding of how low-concentration data can be used and interpreted and places responsibility for using and presenting final data with the user rather than with the laboratory. Users must consider that (1) new laboratory reporting levels may differ from previously established minimum reporting levels, (2) long- term method detection levels and laboratory reporting levels may change over time, and (3) estimated concentrations are less certain than concentrations reported above the laboratory reporting level. The availability of uncensored but qualified low-concentration data for interpretation and statistical analysis is a substantial benefit to the user. A decision to censor data after they are reported from the laboratory may still be made by the user, if merited, on the basis of the intended use of the data.

This report is available on the USGS Office of Water Quality Site.

VIEW the report.

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