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May 2, 2014

Water lab fined for faulty bacteria testing

NEW CASTLE — The state has fined Microbac Laboratories, Erie Division, $220,000 for various violations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced the fine Wednesday. A consent order and agreement require the lab to pay the fine and take actions to correct the violations that occurred last year.

No health problems were reported in Lawrence County as a result of the violations.

During an on-site assessment in June, the DEP discovered the Erie facility had failed to meet several standards. The lab was found to be conducting improper sample analysis and reporting. It was accredited under DEP’s National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program to test and analyze drinking water, non-potable water and a variety of soils, chemicals and liquids.

Eric Shirk of the DEP said there were no incidents of large numbers of people getting sick as a result of the lab’s violations. All “public water supplies” that used the lab were notified last year of the violations and advised to have another water sample tested “to ensure no public health impact.”

Public water supplies can include restaurants, hotels, churches and other public establishments. Shirk said they are required to have their water tested whether their source is a private well or public water system.

The DEP found that improper analysis may have led to false-negative bacteriological results for drinking water samples at the Erie lab. The DEP also found several instances where the lab failed to properly report positive bacteriological results in drinking water. As a result of the DEP’s findings, in August the Erie lab voluntarily relinquished its accreditations for drinking water bacteriological parameters.

The two public water systems providing water to Lawrence County do not use the Erie lab and were not affected.

Gary Lobaugh, external affairs manager for Pennsylvania American Water, said his company “has no involvement with them whatsoever.”

He said the company has its own lab and, when necessary, uses another “nationally accredited lab.”

Pennsylvania American Water provides water to customers in New Castle, Wampum, West Pittsburgh, Edinburg and Ellwood City.

Donna Alston, manager of communications at Aqua Pennsylvania, said that company also does most of its testing in-house and does not use the Erie lab. Aqua Pennsylvania provides water to parts of New Wilmington Borough, Wilmington Township and Pulaski Township.

According to the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Act, an environmental laboratory must be accredited by the DEP in order to generate data or perform analyses to be used to comply with an environmental statute. Microbac operates other environmental divisional laboratories that the DEP accredits that are not subject to the DEP’s action against Microbac Laboratories, Erie Division.

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