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Conversion Controversy: Another Case for Data Validation

Converting Feet to Meters

I’m often asked, “Why should I perform data validation?  What is the purpose, and what will I find?”  In the news today, there is a real-world example of the great importance and due diligence in performing third-party data validation.

Lumber Liquidators has recently come under fire for selling laminate flooring that potentially emitted harmful levels of formaldehyde gas.  Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.  The original report and investigation by the CBS news program “60 Minutes,” which aired on March 1, 2015, found elevated levels of formaldehyde in the Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring produced in China.  The average level of formaldehyde in the Chinese-made laminate flooring was over six to seven times the California state standards with some samples close to 20 times higher.

Based on the reporting and investigation by “60 Minutes,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) performed its own testing on samples of Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring made in China.  The CDC released its report on February 10, 2016, which stated that based on the levels of formaldehyde, the laminate flooring could cause cancer in two to nine cases per 100,000 people.  On February 13, 2016, the CDC was notified of an error in its calculations.  The CDC indoor air model used an incorrect value for ceiling height in its estimates.  Essentially, it failed to convert the distance from feet to meters in the calculation; 3.28 feet in 1 meter.  As a result of this error, health risks were calculated using airborne concentration estimates that were 3 times lower than they should have been.  This raises the cancer risk 3-fold, from two to nine cases per 100,000 people to six to 30 cases per 100,000 people.  This is a significant difference, and correcting this huge error tripled the potential human health risk.

While this is a newsworthy, high-profile case study, conversion errors, such as incorrect unit conversions and dry-weight corrections, are some of the most common errors observed during data validation.  These errors can cause huge differences in the final reported concentrations of the contaminants of concern and are generally not detected without rigorous data validation.  We have seen conversion errors account for orders of magnitude differences in the calculated results, resulting in both higher and lower concentrations.  Finding and correcting those conversion and reporting errors early, prior to regulatory submission, can save both valuable time and money for the client and project.  For more information on data validation services, please contact Environmental Standards, Inc.