Lee Man Charged For False Drinking Water Tests
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The director of a private water testing laboratory in Lee has been indicted in connection with backdating drinking water sample analyses to cover-up misconduct and feign compliance with environmental laws, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office announced today.
William Enser, Jr., 63, of Lee, was indicted by a Berkshire County Grand Jury on 15 counts of Knowingly Falsifying Reports Submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection and 15 counts of Willfully Making False Reports to the Department of Environmental Protection.
"This defendant allegedly backdated reports sent to officials to make it appear that water samples were tested within the required timeframe when in fact, they were not," Attorney General Martha Coakley said. "As the director of the lab, he was entrusted with ensuring the integrity of the testing and the safety of the water supply. We allege that he neglected those responsibilities by cutting corners and then attempting to cover it up."
In September 2012, the AG's Office began an investigation after the matter was initially investigated and referred by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Enser was the director of Berkshire Enviro-Labs, Inc. in Lee that had previously acted as a certified drinking water lab to provide drinking water testing for private and public water suppliers in western Massachusetts.
"Labs that test drinking water samples must be held to very strict standards to ensure that the health and safety of the public is never compromised," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell. "This indictment suggests that the lab director purposely skewed the data and undermined the system. MassDEP staff conducting audit, inspection and investigative functions uncovered this fraud and helped to bring this operator to justice."
Authorities allege that at times between 2008 and 2012, Enser falsified the dates of drinking water sample analyses on reports submitted to the MassDEP in an attempt to make it appear that the analyses had been completed within the required holding time for those substances, when in fact, they had not. The analyses were being run for the presence of nitrates and nitrites, substances that can contaminate drinking water. The maximum sample holding time, or the time from sample collection to sample analysis, for these kinds of samples is 48 hours. After 48 hours, the lab analysis is not considered reliable.
Investigation revealed that the dates submitted to the MassDEP differed from those found on the chromatogram, a chart printed from the instrument used to analyze the samples, in an alleged attempt to feign compliance with state environmental laws.
MassDEP conducted additional analysis to determine if the falsification of the data put the public at risk. Based on the prompt closing of the lab, MassDEP’s own additional sampling and close review of the data concerning nitrates and nitrites, the agency does not believe that the water that was the subject of the back-dated samples put the public at risk.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force, an interagency unit which is overseen by Coakley, Kimmell and Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan, Jr. The Strike Force comprises prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office, Environmental Police Officers assigned to the Attorney General's Office, and investigators and engineers from the MassDEP who investigate and prosecute crimes that harm or threaten the state's water, air, or land and that pose a significant threat to human health.
A Berkshire County Grand Jury returned indictments against Enser on Wednesday. He will be arraigned in Berkshire Superior Court on Jan. 23. In September 2012, MassDEP's Wall Experiment Station Lab Certification Office, which certifies and audits these kinds of labs, revoked the certification of Enviro-Labs that allowed them to analyze water samples as a result of falsification of data and engaging in deceptive practices. The laboratory has not been conducting analysis on water samples since that time.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Rainer, Chief of the Environmental Crimes Strike Force, and Assistant Attorney General Sara Farnum, of AG Coakley's Environmental Crimes Division, with assistance from the Massachusetts Environmental Police, and the MassDEP Strike Force Director Pamela Talbot and investigators Tim Dame and Joel Rees. MassDEP staff also worked to corroborate the technical findings and to ensure the continued delivery of certified lab services to affected water suppliers. That staff is Marielle Stone, Western Regional Office Director Michael Gorski and Brian Harrington, Jim Gibbs, Deirdre Cabral and Doug Paine. MassDEP lab staff, Anne Marie Allen, John Bardzik and Lisa Touet provided valuable assistance with the lab audit and inspections.