After a Raleigh County employee admitted to falsifying coal industry water quality samples as a lab supervisor for Appalachian Laboratories, many other questions surfaced as to how often does this kind of practice goes on. It also brought to light how a lab geared towards testing data for the coal industry would be able to cover up criminal water sampling violations.
Criminal charges filed in September claimed that John W. Shelton admitted to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, saying he diluted water samples, substituted water he knew was clean from mining discharges and did not keep water samples refrigerated. It all seemingly revolved around Appalachian Laboratories wanting to increase its profit margin by avoiding cost that would have incurred if full compliance within the Clean Water Act was met. And with the US EPA placing stricter guidelines towards compliance within the Coal Industry, the use of fake water samples also shows how coal companies will seemingly go the extreme towards getting the data they need to keep their operations afloat. And that includes putting a lot of pressure on small labs within the state to get water data that will meet EPA compliance.
The criminal complaint also stated that the submittal of fake water samples from Appalachian Laboratories took place from 2008 through June 2013. Another statement that raised the eyes of prosecutors claimed that Appalachian Laboratories knew when Inspectors with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection were planning to visit a particular operation. Court documents revealed that Shelton and other employees at the lab would put ice in their coolers that they kept in their trucks in preparation for DEP inspection to conceal hold times of each sample along with not properly preserving each sample.
The findings from the violations with Appalachian Laboratories led the WVDEP to revoke the lab’s certification towards performing sampling and lab analysis for mine operators and other businesses in West Virginia. Appalachian Laboratories have been in business for 30 years and serves over 75 clients. One would think that the lab would have met compliance guidelines through the years to stay in business for so long. It also leaves room to speculate that this could be a common practice taking place throughout the state and that Appalachian Laboratories may have just been the first one to get caught.
The DEP stated that all mining operators that used Appalachian Laboratories for sampling and analysis will be required to submit new water quality data before it approves new permits for mining operators. But the overall image being perceived by certain coal companies is that they will sacrifice integrity and the business operations of a laboratory to avoid fines to receive the permitting needed to continue mining operations.
Contributing Sources: State Journal; WV Gazette; Appalachian Voices