Tainted Water Testing Lab Flourished Under Lax New York State Regulators

Updated 25 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
Tainted Water Testing Lab Flourished Under Lax New York State Regulators

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Even after armed federal investigators raided its offices in 2010 and the New York Department of Health suspended its state certification in early 2012, Upstate Laboratories Inc. continued its lucrative business of testing water samples from landfills and wastewater treatment plants across the state.

Officially, state environmental regulators will not accept test results from labs the DOH has not certified. The rule is fundamental to the integrity of the program that was designed to protect the state’s waterways from industrial pollution. Yet the state Department of Environmental Conservation kept accepting Upstate’s test results for more than a year after DEC managers learned of the suspension and wrote emails saying the results should be rejected.

On the morning of February 27, 2012, the DOH notified the DEC that it had suspended Upstate Labs. A few hours later, Jason Fagel, an official at the DEC’s Division of Water, emailed other DEC managers: “For any regulatory entity that your division may oversee, like landfills, they should not be using Upstate to report monitoring results to DEC. If you notice this happening, DOH would like to know about it.”

Eric Obrecht of the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation emailed remedial contractors and engineers the same day saying, “If you have planned to utilize Upstate Labs to perform analysis … please use an alternate lab until this matter is resolved.”

But many of Upstate’s clients either didn’t get the message about Upstate’s suspension or simply assumed the DEC and DOH would look the other way. For example:

  • Chautauqua County, 30 miles south of Buffalo, filed its annual landfill report for 2012 with the DEC this past summer. It was based on water quality tests from Upstate.
  • Steuben County, which includes the city of Corning, relied on Upstate to collect and test water from its landfill monitoring wells throughout 2012 and it reported those results to the DEC. Last November, Steuben voted to rehire Upstate for the year 2013 for $152,552.
  • Madison County, 10 miles east of Syracuse, immediately terminated its three-year contract with Upstate in March 2013 after it received a March 4 email from the DOH stating that Upstate’s certification had been formally revoked.
  • Tompkins County, which includes the Finger Lakes city of Ithaca, also fired Upstate for breach of contract in March 2013, days after it learned the company was not certified. Tompkins officials said they acted in response to a one-page form letter that was part disclosure notice and part marketing flyer from Anthony Scala, Upstate’s president and CEO.

“Dear valued clients,” Scala’s March 7, 2013 letter began. “I have good news about Upstate and future services that can be offered our clients. Our sister lab, Enalytic, will be renting space and equipment from Upstate and hiring its employees.”

In the fourth paragraph, Scala wrote, “Upstate is no longer a certified laboratory in the state of New York….”

The notice appeared to catch many Upstate clients flat-footed, and many — if not all — cancelled their contracts over the next few weeks.

Four months later, on July 17, federal prosecutors in Syracuse announced that Upstate had pled guilty to one felony count of mail fraud related to the falsification of more than 3,300 laboratory test results from 2008 through 2010. The company agreed to pay a criminal fine of $150,000 and restitution to victims, as determined by the court. The fine may be waived if the restitution total exceeds the amount of the fine.

- See more at: http://www.dcbureau.org/201311209337/natural-resources-news-service/tainted-water-testing-lab-flourished-under-lax-new-york-state-regulators.html#sthash.BUVoZic9.dpuf
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