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Archive for Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Lab shut down for falsifying data

October 2, 2001

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Stunning those who oversee Kansas water systems, authorities have shut down a southeast Kansas laboratory, saying the firm was falsifying data used to assure Kansas water quality.

Quality Water Analysis Laboratory Inc. of Pittsburg is accused of doctoring records used to determine the safety of wastewater and treated hazardous wastes dumped back into Kansas streams by municipalities and industries.

"It's quite shocking," said Tony Holt, lab director for the Johnson County Environmental Department, which used Quality Water Analysis Laboratory for wastewater testing. "You just don't think this stuff goes on."

The action taken Friday and confirmed Monday by state and federal environmental authorities against the lab sent local officials scrambling to have wastewater samples re-tested.

"Probably the best course of action is to look over the data and have it tested again," said Shari Stamer, water quality manager for the city of Lawrence.

State and federal environmental officials declined to reveal details of the allegations against Quality Water Analysis Laboratory except to say that a criminal investigation was continuing.

The lab was searched Sept. 11 by special EPA agents. Warrants for the search were based on a sworn statement that remains sealed under court order, according to Ray Bosch, an EPA attorney who is working with federal prosecutors on the case.

During the search, Terry Koester, owner and president of the laboratory, and Matthew Sheffield, manager of the laboratory, signed statements admitting that they had falsified data, according to a revocation order by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The falsified records included those used by the state to determine whether the quality of wastewater dumped back into rivers and streams by municipal and industrial treatment plants is within the permitted levels of pollutants, the KDHE said.

Koester disclosed that the falsification of data took place at the laboratory as far back as 1996, according to the KDHE.

" ... immediate revocation of the laboratory's certificate is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public," the KDHE order stated. Revocation of the lab's state certification prohibits the lab from operating.

An attorney representing the laboratory, Carl Gallagher of Kansas City, Kan., would only say, "We are cooperating with authorities, and we will get this worked out."

Officials with EPA and KDHE were trying to determine the scope of the allegations.

The laboratory is a little larger than a mid-sized laboratory, according to state officials. It employed between 30 and 40 people, Gallagher said.

Holt, the Johnson County official, and Stamer, the city of Lawrence official, said Quality Water Analysis Laboratory conducted toxicity tests of wastewater effluent for their respective departments.

The test monitors toxicity of effluent and costs about $800, which is lower than what other labs charge for the test.

Both tests showed the effluent in compliance with wastewater regulations. Now, Holt and Stamer are going to have the effluent re-tested.

"It's water over the dam. We hope they were correct," Holt said.

Holt said the allegations sent shock waves among people running public water supplies and wastewater plants.

"A lot of lab work is done on trust. Your reputation and honesty are all you have in this business," he said.

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