News | February 17, 2000

EPA Region V Lab Results Tainted

A criminal investigation is under way by the U.S. Department of Justice into the doctoring of test results from the U.S. EPA's Region V laboratories, a federal official told the Chicago Sun-Times on Feb. 14.

The environmental agency reportedly has alerted federal prosecutors handling pollution cases, as well as scores of suspected polluters, that some of the data used in cases against polluters may be tainted.

The Sun-Times disclosed on Feb. 13 that an unpublicized, 28-month investigation of one section of the EPA's central regional laboratory found that EPA supervisors, along with private contractors who help run the lab's organic section, had:

  • mishandled some time-sensitive test samples by not initiating their analysis within required deadlines—making them vulnerable to legal challenge; and
  • doctored lab records in an attempt to cover up the samples' mishandling.

Al Cornelius, head of criminal investigations here for the regional EPA's inspector general, confirmed that the Justice Department's public-integrity section is conducting a criminal investigation into falsification of data.

One EPA supervisor retired and another was removed, laboratory sources told the Sun-Times.

A spokesperson for the outside contractor, Lockheed Martin Environmental Services, said one of the firm's employees had been fired. A second worker under scrutiny reportedly is looking for another job.

Investigators said they have yet to determine the cause for the faulty work.

John Peterson, an acting section chief in the EPA's Superfund section in Region V, said that on Sept. 1 the agency's inspector general and criminal investigation teams entered the 10th floor laboratory, interrogated Lockheed workers for up to 11 hours, and confiscated documents and electronic records.

The EPA reportedly has shifted lab work to outside contractors.

"The real concern about these flawed tests is that they may have masked pollution going into our soils and streams," Paul Kakuris, president of the Illinois Dunesland Society, told the Sun-Times.

Edited by Paul Hersch