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June 2021 – Lab News

Lab News

The mergers and acquisitions in the environmental laboratory marketplace just never stop.

Montrose Environmental Group, Inc. Acquires Vista Analytical Laboratory

Montrose Environmental Group, Inc. (Montrose; NYSE: MEG) acquired Vista Analytical Laboratory (Vista) on June 17, 2021. Vista is a premier ultra-trace testing laboratory for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other persistent organic pollutants. Montrose will integrate Vista’s Leadership Team and business into the Measurement and Analysis Segment of the company and will operate as part of Enthalpy Analytical, LLC, a subsidiary of Montrose.

Vista was founded in 1990 and is based in El Dorado Hills, California. Vista President Martha Maier sees a great cultural fit with Montrose and is excited about expanding Vista’s capabilities geographically. Congratulations to both Montrose and Vista!

Goose the Chlorine – More Lab Fraud

The former Superintendent of the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), Jay Earnest Niday, who conspired to cheat on environmental testing at the plant, was sentenced on April 1, 2021, to 3 months in federal prison.

On October 6, 2020, Niday had plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of knowingly falsifying, tampering with, and rendering inaccurate a monitoring device or method required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Under a CWA permit, the WWTP was required to treat wastewater before discharging it into the Missouri River. Between March 15 and November 15 each year, when public use of the Missouri River was at its highest levels, the WWTP was also required to disinfect its wastewater to remove potentially dangerous human pathogens, including fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli. The WWTP used chlorine to treat wastewater, which kills bacteria but is potentially toxic to aquatic life. The permit required the WWTP to periodically test its wastewater not only for the presence of fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli, but also total residual chlorine (TRC) levels, to ensure that the Missouri River would not be polluted.

From 2011 until at least June 2015, Niday and others knowingly withheld from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) serious problems with the WWTP’s new treatment process, known as “the MLE process.” Niday and others knew that the WWTP could not consistently disinfect the millions of gallons of wastewater discharging into the Missouri River each day. But, instead of addressing the problems with the process, Niday and his coconspirators used a fraudulent testing procedure that ensured the WWTP would always pass its effluent tests for fecal coliform, E. coli, and TRC. 

Specifically, early in the morning on testing days for bacteria, Niday and a subordinate manager, Shift Supervisor Patrick Schwarte, instructed first‑shift operators at the WWTP to increase the rate of liquid chlorine supplied to the wastewater. After an hour or two passed, and an artificially high level of chlorine was fully mixed into wastewater, they ordered the WWTP’s first-shift operators to use hand-held colorimeters to gauge the levels of chlorine. Only when the colorimeter “maxed out” would the Superintendent take a sample for fecal coliform or E. coli. This fraudulent procedure allowed for the chlorine in the wastewater to reach sufficient concentrations to avoid showing elevated levels of fecal coliform or E. coli, which would violate the WWTP’s CWA permits.  The WWTP never reported any exceedances of its CWA permit limits for bacteria or residual chlorine after July 2012.

The liquid chlorine rate was increased from about 2.5 gallons per hour, to somewhere between 70 to 120 gallons per hour, for up to 2 hours. On non-testing days, WWTP employees maintained the chlorine feed rate at minimal levels, well below the designed feed rate of the WWTP and at a rate clearly insufficient to ensure the WWTP consistently and adequately disinfected its wastewater, as the WWTP’s CWA permits required. Then, in the afternoon on fecal coliform or E. coli testing days, well after the high amounts of chlorine had dissipated from the WWTP’s chlorine contact basin, and when an insufficiently low rate of liquid chlorine was supplied to the basin, Niday and Schwarte would test again for TRC. In the afternoon, they were certain the TRC would pass, because only a minimal rate of liquid chlorine was supplied to the chlorine contact basin at that time. 

Niday was sentenced in Sioux City by United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand.  Niday was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and fined $6,000.  He must also repay $2,500 in court-appointed attorney fees and serve a 2-year term of supervised release after the prison term.

David Blye, CEAC

Senior Principal Chemist