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Initial feedback from CQA-ICP testing

Features | June 1, 2006 | By:

During the course of three summers (1988, 1990, and 1992) a team of speakers was put together by Bob Landreth of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to travel to each of the EPA’s 10 regions to teach and to explain the agency’s regulations on landfill design.

The core group included Landreth, who opened the day-and-a-half-long sessions, followed by Dave Daniel on compacted clay liners (CCLs), Bob Koerner on geosynthetic materials, Greg Richardson on system design, and Paul Schroeder on HELP modeling. Each event concluded with a panel session consisting of all of the speakers. An issue that frequently arose was essentially a challenge to the credibility and expertise of both construction quality control (CQC) and construction quality assurance (CQA) personnel.

With this in mind, the group subsequently explored existing certification institutes and eventually went with the National Institute for Certification of Engineering Technologists (NICET), a well-established group certifying engineering technologists in approximately 30 different application areas. We worked with them forming advisory experts in geosynthetics and they started with examinations and the granting of certifications in about 1994 at three different levels for geosynthetic materials. (CCLs never were developed under NICET auspices.)

During the subsequent few years, progress was made; however, it became apparent that the CQC personnel did not fit the mold of taking written examinations. For example, some excellent installers don’t speak English. To compensate for this unfulfilled need, the International Association of Geosynthetics Installers (IAGI) was formed. This “hands-on” testing organization is functioning well and certainly filling the need for certified installation personnel. For further information see their Web site:

In the decade since the NICET-CQA examinations were first crafted, little has been done in upgrading and updating the exams; and the “fit” for geosynthetics CQA inspectors was thought marginal, at best. The suggestion was made in 2005 that GSI might provide such a service since we are currently doing both laboratory accreditation (the GAI-LAP program) and product certification (the GCI-PCP program). Furthermore, GSI has a vested interest in geosynthetics, per se, and thus program maintenance is assured.

The GSI Board of Directors gave the green light and we formed an ad-hoc steering committee: Sam Allen of TRI, Jeff Blum of STS, Jeff Fassett of Golder, Jim Goddard of ADS, Jim Olsta of CETCO, Boyd Ramsey of GSE, Dan Rohe of EPI, Mark Sieracke of Weaver Boos, Maria Tanase of Earth Tech, Rick Thiel of Vector, and Steve Wintheiser of CTI.

This group has worked efficiently to establish the following basic criteria:

(a) His/her supervisor, preferably a professional engineer, must recommend the candidate.

(b) The candidate’s resume must be submitted and it must include at least 6 months of experience in CQA of like materials.

(c) The fee was established at $400 for a 5-year certification for geosynthetics materials. (Subsequently it was modified to $500 for 5 years of certification for both geosynthetic materials and CCLs.)

(d) The candidate must pass a multiple-choice geosynthetics examination of 140 questions with a grade of 70%, or higher. (The CCL examination is an additional 55 questions, with 70% again the passing grade.)

The Steering Committee then crafted the geosynthetics examination, which is currently 20 questions on geosynthetics, 20 questions on geotextiles, 10 questions on geogrids, 20 questions on geonets, 35 questions on geomembranes, 20 questions on GCLs, and 15 questions on geopipe.

The first examination was held at GSI on Jan. 28, 2006, with 11 people taking (and all passing) the examination. There were subsequent modifications made to the exam, however, and some poorly worded or possible multiple-answer questions were revised.

Following these first exams, Sam Allen suggested adding CCLs to the program. Of course, soils are beyond the mandate of GSI, so our Board of Directors was brought back into the discussion and eventually approved the idea. The logic of this decision is that CCLs have no “home” and that for liner systems, geosynthetics and CCLs truly go together and are often inspected by the same CQA personnel. Fortunately, Sam with the aid of John Allen and Bob Gilbert (who had now joined the Steering Committee), had a set of questions and answers, and offered them to us for the purpose of the certification examination in CCLs. There are 55 questions in this particular test. Testing times are 2 hours for geosynthetic materials and 1 hour for CCLs, with a 30-minute break between the two exams.

The first offering of both exams was in Richmond, Va. at Golder Associates on March 1, 2006, with an independent proctor overseeing the exams. GSI did all of the grading. Nine candidates took the two examinations and they all passed with scores of 70% or higher, and all were certified accordingly.

This year, both examinations have been offered in: Fairmount, WV on March 17; Austin, Texas, March 24; Richmond, Va., April 1; Lansing, Mich., April 3; Grass Valley, Calif., April 7; Folsom, Pa., April 22; Irvine, Calif., May 3; and Pittsburgh, Pa., May 13.

From the number of sites and the nice geographic distribution of locations, the program has started out well beyond our expectations. Landfill owners, particularly Waste Management Inc., are firmly behind the program and we sense that the regulatory community is as well.

George Koerner is the project manager, Jamie Koerner is handling the considerable bookkeeping involved, and Bob Koerner is providing oversight. Please visit our Web site at: under “Inspector Certification—GCI-ICP” for information on application forms, proctor details, and other scheduled examination dates and locations. Also, please don’t hesitate to give us feedback and your ideas regarding ongoing improvement in the examinations or the program’s organization.

Geosynthetic Institute, 475 Kedron Ave., Folsom, PA 19033-1208 USA; +1 610 522 8440; Fax (610) 522-8441; E-mail:;

Editor’s note:

Please see the Geosynthetic Institute column in the April-May issue of Geosynthetics, for an introduction to this program, described in “GRI White Paper #8.”

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