An environmental specimen bank (ESB) is an archive for samples that can be used to document and assess the quality of the environment in which we live. These specimens must be representative of a particular area, and be collected at regular intervals, to allow to monitor changes in the concentration of various (pollutant) substances over the course of time.
The Environmental Specimen Bank is a major component of the German environmental observation system. It provides a scientific basis for decisions by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) concerning what action it considers necessary as a means of protecting the environment and monitoring the efficacy of such action.
The idea of creating an archive for environmental specimens was first proposed by German and American scientists in the early 1970s. Experts in various scientific disciplines got together for informal discussions, leading to the first international conferences held in 1977 and 1978 to define a concept for environmental specimen banking and to agree on the choice of bioindicators.
The official guidelines for the operation of the German Environmental Specimen Bank are laid down in a concept document.
To achieve a high degree of quality assurance, every step in the procedure from sampling through transport, preparation and analysis of the specimen to long- term storage is the subject of binding Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for each type of specimen.
The long-term storage of environmental and human specimens is regarded as the main task of the German Environmental Specimen Bank: The Environmental Specimen Bank provides a continuous historical record of the state of the environment in Germany.