Testing Laboratories

SIC 8734

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification covers establishments primarily engaged in providing testing services. Establishments primarily engaged in performing clinical laboratory testing for the medical profession are classified in SIC 8071: Medical Laboratories.

Testing laboratories exist in both corporate in-house and independent settings and include varied services such as assaying; automobile proving and testing grounds; calibration and certification testing; dosimetry (measurement of radiation); film badge service (radiation detection); food testing; forensic services; hydrostatic testing services; product testing; metallurgical testing; pollution testing; radiographing welded joints on pipes and fittings; seed testing; veterinary testing; and industrial X-ray inspection. In the late 2000s, 6,400 testing laboratories operated nationwide, employing 106,600 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008. Total revenues reached $12.3 billion.

As people became increasingly aware of environmental and other physical hazards, they wanted to know about the quality of two very broad categories: substances that entered their bodies and objects they came into contact with on a daily basis. In some cases, the constitution or reliability of substances and objects are easily perceived, but the effects of radiation or toxic chemicals often are less immediately apparent or noticeable. For this reason, a broad range of testing laboratories developed over the years, especially where legislation mandated certain safety standards. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture are the three best-known government agencies with which the testing laboratory industry is involved.

Because of the myriad federal regulations regarding food, drugs, equipment, and general products, testing for all kinds of substances and hazards has spawned its own industry. Food testing laboratories are among the most common testing laboratories. A number of laws directly relate to food: the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; the Fair Packaging Act; Pure Food and Drug Laws; Consumer Product Safety Act; the Occupational Safety and Health Act; the Water Pollution Control Act; the Rodenticide Act; and the Clean Water Act. Companies that produce, package, and market food must be sure their products comply with all federal laws governing their products.

Devices that are used in hospitals and doctors' offices for diagnostic purposes, such as X-rays or mammography machines, must also be subjected to a wide range of tests on a regular basis to be sure they are functioning according to specifications and are calibrated properly. Some instruments used for detecting radiation intensity are the well-known Geiger-Muller counter, the Cutie Pie survey meter, and the scintillation counter. Some functions and calibrations must be tested on an annual basis, while others are tested on daily, weekly, or monthly schedules. Hospitals and other medical facilities contract with independent laboratories that provide trained professionals and physicists to perform such on-site inspections and to make repairs when necessary. They also train operators to complete the necessary daily tests that are mandated for peak performance and the optimum safety of both the operator and the patient.

Other laboratories work with the government, medical community, and other industries to provide a wide range of services in nearly every field from automobile testing to forensics and metallurgy. Many facilities feature mobile laboratories out of necessity and offer technicians cross-certified in accordance with the latest American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and military requirements, enabling them to serve in technician, auditor, and inspector capacities.

The history of testing laboratories is a relatively short one. By the beginning of the twentieth century, members of the food manufacturing industry began to add untested chemicals to their products. Growing concern about such untested products prompted Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. This act established the Food and Drug Administration with jurisdiction over the safety of food additives and drugs that already were proven harmful. In 1938, the Cosmetic Act expanded that authority to drugs, which must undergo vigorous testing before reaching the marketplace. Subsequent legislation in 1957, 1958, and 1962 required additional testing and compliance with regulations regarding food, drugs, and cosmetics.

After 1945, at the dawn of the Atomic Age, people realized the dangers of radiation. They also realized that the use of radiation was not confined to warfare as the medical community established a new use for the technology. X-rays, although no longer new, were in widespread use, as were radioisotopes for diagnostic purposes and radiation treatment for cancer therapy. Euphoria over the new treatments soon was tempered by concern, and public demand led to new legislation to set acceptable standards for exposure. Because of all the regulations regarding food, drugs, cosmetics, radiation, and related products, commercial testing laboratories materialized all over the country.

The development of varieties of lab tests seems to change historically along with society's concerns. First, it was food, then radiation, and in the 1990s, the environment that raised concern. Thus, previously established labs expanded their services to include environmental testing, and specialized labs came into being specifically for environmental testing. In the late 2000s, the largest numbers of dedicated laboratories were in water testing, forensics, calibration and certification, product testing, and soil analysis.

American Society for Testing and Materials.
In 1993, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) inaugurated a proficiency-testing program. The program offers services to testing laboratories within all industries in an endeavor to coordinate testing standards worldwide. As of 2009, ASTM published more than 12,000 standards each year, which are found online and in the 80-volume Annual Book of ASTM Standards.

ASTM is a section of the International Association for Testing Materials and was founded in 1898 to encourage the development of materials standards for the railroad construction industry. Throughout the twentieth century, ASTM expanded the scope of its programs and committees from steel and construction materials in 1898, to war-essential materials in the 1940s. ASTM branched into environmental and consumer product standards in the 1970s and established the Institute for Standards Research (ISR) in 1988.

In 2003, ASTM published its new edition of International Directory of Testing Laboratories, listing more than 4,000 testing facilities. These included firms involved in acoustic and vibration testing, biological testing, chemical testing, chromatography, electrical and electronic testing, geotechnical testing, mechanical testing, metrology, nondestructive evaluation, optics and photometry, radiation and ionizing, surface analysis and microscopy, sensory evaluation, spectroscopy, thermal analysis, and thermal and fire testing. Facilities engaged in chemical testing were most populous, while radiation and ionizing testing labs were least prevalent. An overwhelming majority of laboratories were located in the United States and Canada.

Industry Leaders

Among publicly traded companies, Landauer Inc. of Glenwood, Illinois, had revenues of $90 million in 2008. Landauer provides a service that measures exposure to X-ray, gamma radiation, and other ionizing radiations. The Luxel dosimeter badge is worn by personnel in nuclear plants, hospitals, and laboratories. The company also offers residential radon monitoring service. National Technical Systems of Calabasas, California, had revenues of $119.9 million in 2008 as a provider of lab services, as well as staffing and physical research. The company serves the aerospace, transportation, electronics, power, and telecommunications industries, among others.

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