Director of Lee water testing lab accused of faking reports
PITTSFIELD -- The director of a private water testing lab in Lee is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday in Berkshire Superior Court on 30 charges for allegedly falsifying water testing samples provided to a state agency.
While the state Attorney General's Office doesn't believe the public was put at risk by the alleged actions of William Enser, Jr., 63, of Lee, the agency says he "neglected" his responsibility to ensure "the integrity of the testing and the safety of the water supply by cutting corners and then attempting to cover it up."
Enser, the director of Berkshire Enviro-Labs in Lee, was recently indicted by a grand jury on 15 counts each of knowingly falsifying reports submitted to the Department of Environmental Protection and willfully making false reports to the DEP.
According to law enforcement officials, Enser backdated drinking water sample analyses to "cover up misconduct and feign compliance with environmental laws."
The reports in question involved testing water samples for the presence of nitrates and nitrites, substances that can contaminate drinking water. In this type of testing, a sample is considered viable only if tested within 48 hours of being taken, according to the AG's office.
Enser allegedly backdated reports to make it appear that water samples were tested within the required time when they weren't.
The DEP doesn't believe the water related to the backdated reports "put the public at risk" based on further testing and "close review of the data concerning nitrates and nitrites."
The AG's office began its investigation in September, the same month the lab lost its water testing certification by the DEP.
According to a Sept. 23 story in The Eagle, it was an unnamed analyst within the lab who was blamed for submitting at least one falsified report.
"Dates were adjusted. I should have known it, but I didn't. I didn't want to sit and argue who did what. I just wanted to keep an even keel and even temper," Enser told The Eagle in an interview in September, after the company had its water testing certification revoked by the DEP, but before criminal charges were brought.
Meanwhile, Enser's legal troubles have local health officials concerned about the future testing of hundreds of public and private water supplies in the county.
Berkshire Enviro-Labs has operated without incident for about 30 years, and is the only lab in the Berkshires that tests the local drinking and wastewater. The next closest testing facility is in Westfield.
"This has an impact on multiple levels: Homeowners with wells, municipalities and small water supplies," said Tri-Town Health Department Director James J. Wilusz.
Tri-Town serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.
Wilusz added, "Quality control and quality assurance are a major concern for testing labs."
Berkshire Enviro-Labs has a verbal agreement with Premier Laboratory Inc., based in Dayville, Conn., to handle its test loads. The Lee company can still collect the samples, just not test them.
Nevertheless, several state-certified labs in the Springfield area are just as qualified to collect and test water drinking samples, according to Peter J. Kolodziej, part-time health agent for Monterey and Otis.
"But, it's not always easy getting labs to come out to the Berkshires to do the testing," said Kolodziej, Tri-Town's former longtime director.
Massachusetts routinely inspected Berkshire Enviro-Labs every three years.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Rainer, chief of the Environmental Crimes Strike Force, and Assistant Attorney General Sara Farnum of the Environmental Crimes Division.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.