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Ross water-testing company loses accreditation over missteps

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By Timothy Puko
Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A local commercial laboratory company agreed to pay a $60,000 fine and give up state accreditation of one of its labs because the Department of Environmental Protection found 50 violations during an April inspection, department officials said on Wednesday.

Microbac Laboratories Inc. had poor quality control at its lab in Baltimore, where it mismanaged how long it held samples and how it double-checked the work of low-level staff, the DEP said. The lab served clients across Pennsylvania testing drinking water, non-drinking water, soils and chemicals, department spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz said.

Kasianowitz said she did not know whether there was any risk to the public from problems with drinking water tests. She did not know whose drinking water was tested by the lab and said the company was conducting an audit to determine which tests were affected.

Officials at Pennsylvania American Water and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority — two of the largest drinking water suppliers in the Pittsburgh area — said they don't use Microbac.

“Microbac has worked closely with the Pennsylvania DEP to resolve this matter and has taken immediate steps to correct any concerns,” the company said in a three-paragraph written statement. Spokesman Bill Rogers declined to provide details.

The Ross-based company is widely used by the government, private industry, academics and citizens, and the problems DEP described are important, said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director at Clean Water Action.

The lab did not properly calculate how long it could hold its samples, DEP said. Holding samples too long can destroy them because chemicals in them can react or break down, Arnowitt said.

“It sounds like there were a lot of quality control issues,” he added. “They're considered one of the major testing labs. For them to give up their accreditation is major.”

Founder A. Warne Boyce and his wife, Doreen, bought Dairy Products Laboratory in Pittsburgh, to create a new independent lab company in 1969, according to the company's website. The company has been expanding nationally, acquiring labs in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Kentucky.

It wasn't the first time the company has drawn scrutiny from the DEP. The Baltimore lab had alleged violations from inspections in March 2009, February 2010 and August 2011, according to the consent agreement.

Many of this year's violations repeated previous mistakes, even backsliding on corrections the lab made in response to those findings, the agreement says.

In recent years, the company has been trying to generate more business from the shale gas boom, soliciting landowners to get well water tested, Arnowitt said. It was named as a defendant in a major gas drilling lawsuit last year in Washington County.

Three families in Amwell alleged the lab failed to notify them of potentially harmful chemicals in the water it tested for Range Resources Corp. on and around their property. A lawyer for the families declined to comment on Wednesday, and a spokesman for Range did not respond to a request for comment.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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