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Drinking water safe at embattled lab, DEP says

| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

There was no public health threat connected to a lab where the Department of Environmental Protection found problems with tests that were done on drinking water for several Pennsylvania communities, state officials said on Friday.

The DEP fined Ross-based Microbac Laboratories Inc. $60,000 and revoked its accreditation for violations involving tests on drinking water, non-drinking water, soils and chemicals. The lab was testing drinking water for carcinogens and other pollutants.

DEP officials said the agency reviewed 260 drinking water samples after finding quality control problems at the lab. Only three of them could have raised health concerns but duplicate tests from other labs determined the water was safe, officials said.

“It didn't take much more than a day or two to figure out we wouldn't have to pull the trigger on” further testing and other precautions to ensure people were drinking safe water, said Lisa Daniels, director of the state's Bureau of Safe Drinking Water.

Questions arose about the lab because it submitted faulty data as part of an accreditation request to DEP last year, department officials said. That led to an unannounced inspection and two-month investigation in the spring that found 50 violations at the lab.

The DEP has blamed the company for poor protocol, unverified testing and under­trained managers, but the company said the general issue was poor documentation.

“The tests were performed in a fashion to provide quality data, however, the documentation of the process in some cases did not fully meet the DEP requirements,” said Robert S. Crookston, senior vice president at Microbac.

The drinking water samples came from all over the state, including a few water authorities in Western Pennsylvania, state online records show. The Baltimore lab did most of those tests only to determine how well the plants' filtration systems were functioning, state and company officials said.

The questionable tests included two in 2012 looking for trihalomethanes — carcinogens — in drinking water from the Midland Borough Municipal Authority and Nova Chemicals Beaver Valley plant, according to the state's online database. State officials said there was a third questionable test for another group of carcinogens, volatile organic compounds, from another plant in 2012, but it could not be identified in the state's online database.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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