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Open-File Report 2008-1227

Open-File Report 2008-1227

Using the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory LT-MDL to Evaluate and Analyze Data

By Bernadine A. Bonn


A long-term method detection level (LT-MDL) and laboratory reporting level (LRL) are used by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Laboratory (NWQL) when reporting results from most chemical analyses of water samples. Changing to this method provided data users with additional information about their data and often resulted in more reported values in the low concentration range. Before this method was implemented, many of these values would have been censored.

The use of the LT-MDL and LRL presents some challenges for the data user. Interpreting data in the low concentration range increases the need for adequate quality assurance because even small contamination or recovery problems can be relatively large compared to concentrations near the LT-MDL and LRL. In addition, the definition of the LT-MDL, as well as the inclusion of low values, can result in complex data sets with multiple censoring levels and reported values that are less than a censoring level. Improper interpretation or statistical manipulation of low-range results in these data sets can result in bias and incorrect conclusions.

This document is designed to help data users use and interpret data reported with the LTMDL/ LRL method. The calculation and application of the LT-MDL and LRL are described. This document shows how to extract statistical information from the LT-MDL and LRL and how to use that information in USGS investigations, such as assessing the quality of field data, interpreting field data, and planning data collection for new projects. A set of 19 detailed examples are included in this document to help data users think about their data and properly interpret lowrange data without introducing bias. Although this document is not meant to be a comprehensive resource of statistical methods, several useful methods of analyzing censored data are demonstrated, including Regression on Order Statistics and Kaplan-Meier Estimation. These two statistical methods handle complex censored data sets without resorting to substitution, thereby avoiding a common source of bias and inaccuracy.


NWQL Reporting Procedure
Assessing Project Data Quality
Annotated Bibliography

This report is available online in Portable Document Format (PDF). If you do not have the Adobe Reader, it is available for free download from Adobe Systems Incorporated.

Download the report (PDF, 650 KB)

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, Terry Schertz, (303) 236-1835.

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