Water quality lab manager accused of fraud

By Associated press
Published January 31, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH - State officials have accused a water quality lab manager of fraud in his tests of years of samples and are investigating whether to invalidate all his work, a move that could set back pollution cleanup efforts.

The data in question is used with samples gathered from other labs to set discharge and runoff limits for bodies of water throughout South Florida. If the data is invalidated, it could take the state years to retest the samples in order to set new limits to clean the waterways.

Thomas White, manager of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Port St. Lucie lab, went before a disciplinary committee on Tuesday.

A state audit last year found that much of the lab's work from January 2001 to July 2005 lacked indicators that note vital information such as whether a sample had been held beyond the acceptable time and whether results could be questionable in certain cases, the department said.

In a letter to the department before Tuesday's hearing, White denied the allegations.

"I have at no time engaged in any data fraud or otherwise falsified any FDEP documents," White wrote. He noted that in his 20 years with the agency, he has audited other labs and found omissions similar to those in his own lab reports but that standard procedure is to note them as deficiencies.