Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Lab Official Pleads Guilty for Faking Water Quality Tests for Coal Companies

Energy

A West Virginia lab technician pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of faking water sample quality tests so that coal mining companies could be guaranteed clean reports to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), reports the Charleston Gazette.

Without accurate monitoring, it's impossible to say if mining operations like the ones that produced the freight on this barge on West Virginia's Kanawha, are polluting the state's waterways.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

John W. Shelton worked for Appalachian Laboratories Inc. (AL), a company certified by DEP to conduct such tests as part of the Clean Water Act. The company conducts tests at more than 100 water sampling locations in the state. Shelton admitted to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act by diluting water samples, substituting clean water for other samples and not keeping samples refrigerated along with another unnamed AL employee.

The criminal charge was filed September 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. It alleged that "From 2008 until approximately July 2013, the defendant John W. Shelton knowingly conspired with a person known to the United States Attorney to commit offenses against the United States: that is, to tamper with, cause to be tampered with, falsify and render inaccurate monitoring methods required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act, namely that samples and measurements shall be representative of the monitored activity and that samples to be analyzed for certain pollutants must be preserved at or below six degree Celsius."

Most damningly, the charges stated, “The objects of the conspiracy were to increase the profitability of Appalachian by avoiding certain costs associated with full compliance with the Clean Water Act and to maintain and increase its revenue by providing its customers and the agencies regulating those customers with reports purporting to show that those customers were operating their sites in compliance with the CWA and thereby allow those customers to avoid fines and other costs associated with bringing their operations into compliance with the CWA and thus encourage and maintain for Appalachian the patronage of those customers."

In other words, the lab kept up its client base of mining companies by making sure that no matter what they dumped into the state's waterways, their testing, which they were required to submit to the DEP and the EPA would always come up clean.

In the plea agreement, the prosecutors and Sheldon concurred that another official at Appalachian stressed the important of "pulling good samples," which was understood to mean making sure they complied, not that they were taken properly, and that Appalachian employees only stored the samples in cooler when DEP inspectors were around. “Each time that Shelton and others at Appalachian diluted the sample water or replaced the sample water with water that would pass, they allowed water that they believed exceeded permit limits to discharge into the waters of the United States," it said.

The Gazette said that this case "raises questions about the self-reporting system state and federal regulators use as a central tool to judge if the mining industry is following pollution limits."

Environmental group Appalachian Voices concurred, pointing out the history of issues that have arisen with self-reporting.

"The discovery that a lab employee in West Virginia knowingly altered sampling procedures to assure that monitoring reports submitted for coal companies would be in compliance with the Clean Water Act raises serious questions about the reliability of monitoring reports for the coal industry across Central Appalachia," said the group's Central Appalachian campaign coordinator Erin Savage.

"In 2010, Appalachian Voices uncovered water monitoring reports that contained duplicated data for the three largest mountaintop removal companies in Kentucky. During the period they were submitting erroneous monitoring reports, these companies never reported a single pollution violation. No criminal charges have been brought in Kentucky in relation to those cases. In light of the charges brought in West Virginia, however, we have to wonder how widespread these criminal practices are. This shocking discovery further highlights the extreme need for state agencies to seriously reevaluate their enforcement efforts and for the EPA to step in when the states do not properly enforce the law."

Sheldon will be sentenced in February and could face as much as five years in jail and up to a $250,000 fine.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

How Big Coal Makes Us Sick

Dangers of Coal Ash Gets Much-Needed National Media Attention

Climate Reckoning: My Family’s Coal Story

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Shawna Foo

Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.

Read More Show Less
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

By David Korten

Our present course puts humans on track to be among the species that expire in Earth's ongoing sixth mass extinction. In my conversations with thoughtful people, I am finding increasing acceptance of this horrific premise.

Read More Show Less
Women sort potatoes in the Andes Mountains near Cusco Peru on July 7, 2014. Thomas O'Neill / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Alejandro Argumedo

August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples – a celebration of the uniqueness of the traditions of Quechua, Huli, Zapotec, and thousands of other cultures, but also of the universality of potatoes, bananas, beans, and the rest of the foods that nourish the world. These crops did not arise out of thin air. They were domesticated over thousands of years, and continue to be nurtured, by Indigenous people. On this day we give thanks to these cultures for the diversity of our food.

Read More Show Less
A sand tiger shark swims over the USS Tarpon in Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Tane Casserley / NOAA

By John R. Platt

Here at The Revelator, we love a good shark story.

The problem is, there aren't all that many good shark stories. According to recent research, sharks and their relatives represent one of the world's most imperiled groups of species. Of the more than 1,250 known species of sharks, skates, rays and chimeras — collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes — at least a quarter are threatened with extinction.

Read More Show Less
The Anderson Community Group. Left to right, Caroline Laur, Anita Foust, the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, and Bill Compton, came together to fight for environmental justice in their community. Anderson Community Group

By Isabella Garcia

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.

Read More Show Less
Berber woman cooks traditional flatbread using an earthen oven in her mud-walled village home located near the historic village of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, Africa on Jan. 4, 2016. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. /NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt

The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Danny Choo / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Olivia Sullivan

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Read More Show Less