Saturday April 6, 2013

LEE -- Berkshire Enviro-Labs’ water-testing services are used by as many as 300 clients, including many Berkshire County cities and towns, to monitor the safety of public drinking water within state-mandated standards.

Now that the director of Berkshire Enviro-Labs in Lee has been charged with more than 54 misdemeanors for allegedly falsifying water reports and the Lee-based company in court-ordered receivership, its clients -- from municipal governments to small businesses -- are dealing with uncertain times.

Local water officials said they’re monitoring the court case involving William Enser Jr. who ran Berkshire County’s only state-certified water and wastewater testing laboratory.

Enser has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him; the state on Thursday also suspended his license, meaning he can’t work in the water-testing field. Others in the company continue to run Berkshire Enviro-Labs’ operations under a court-appointed receivership.

"We are aware of the situation," said Bruce Collingwood, the commissioner of Pittsfield’s Department of Public Utilities. "And we have continued to use their [Berkshire Enviro-Labs’] services and we have looked at other options."

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires public water supplies to be monitored on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis under most circumstances. Berkshire Enviro-Labs assumed this niche service for many towns across Berkshire County.

The company is permitted by the DEP to continue to collect drinking and wastewater samples for state-mandated testing, but it is now subcontracting the actual testing to a Connecticut company because of the legal matters involving Enser.

While the DEP has authorized Berkshire Enviro-Labs to continue to collect water samples, the testing is done by Premier Laboratory Inc., based in Dayville, Conn.

A judge also has appointed Springfield lawyer Joseph Collins as the receiver for Berkshire Enviro-Labs.

The Williamstown Water and Sewer Deparment has opted for another water-testing company, but departments like Pittsfield, Lee continues to use Berkshire Enviro-Labs.

Lee Public Works Supertintendent Christopher Pompi said the town continues to work with Enviro-Labs and will do so until told otherwise by the DEP.

Williamstown Water and Sewer Superintendent Ed Rondeau ended its relationship with Enviro-Labs and turned to a service outside the county.

Now, Premier Laboratory, the Connecticut-based company, is poised to enter the Berkshire County water-testing market full-time. General Manager Ron Warila said on Friday that his company will be establishing a laboratory in leased space in Lee by late May.

"We’ve been working on this for about two months right now," Warila said.

Next week, Premier will collect water samples at its new office at 80 Runway in Lee. Until it opens its lab late next month, the samples will be taken to its Connecticut lab for testing.

The circumstances surrounding water testing have wide implications, said James Wilusz, director of the Tri-Town Board of Health, which serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.

Municipalities and businesses are required to perform numerous tests to ensure water is safe for the public to drink and to swim in. For example, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, all Berkshire County swimming areas are required to be tested on a weekly basis, Wilusz said.

The Tri-Town Board of Health also will have a list available of other state-certified water testing companies in Western Massachusetts by the end of next week, Willusz said.

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata