State: Local lab failed to quickly report positive E. coli, high nitrate levels in drinking water

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A Kern County lab was fined by the state last year after it failed to report results of positive E. coli and high levels of nitrates in the county’s drinking water during the required time period, new documents show. 

According to documents from the State Water Resources Control Board, BC Laboratories Inc. had analyzed a drinking water sample on April 12, 2018 and found it to be positive with E. coli but didn’t report the result to the water supplier until April 18, well past the 24-hour requirement.

In addition, the board found that the lab had analyzed drinking water on Feb. 7 and March 16 and found nitrate levels exceeding the legal limit for drinking water and had also failed to report those results within 24 hours. 

“Due to the public health risk of consuming contaminated water, it is essential that drinking water samples testing positive for…E. coli and/or nitrates are reported to the water supplier’s designated contact person within 24 hours of analysis,” the board said in its violation order.

BC Labs says the late reporting was not intentional on its part and was “merely administrative.” 

The discoveries were found as part of a water board investigation after the board sent a violation order to BC Labs in April 2018 for failing to report results in January of two drinking water samples within the 10-day time limit. BC Labs was required to submit a corrective action report. 

In a second violation order sent to the company in September 2018, the water board requested BC Labs revise its report to reflect the findings of E. coli and nitrates. 

During a follow-up investigation into BC Labs last March, the board said it found five additional incidents between July 26, 2017 and Dec. 14, 2018 when the company failed to report drinking water results to the board. 

Most of the violations were found to have been reported more than 100 days late. In one case, the results were reported nearly two years late, a violation order shows. Three of them were initially found to have occurred after BC Labs submitted its plan for correcting the previous violations. 

BC Labs was required to submit a new corrective action report addressing the new findings. The water board also fined the company $6,820 in August 2019. 

However, the fine was reduced to $4,780 in September after BC Labs provided documentation which showed that for one of the violations, the results were filed under the wrong water system number. 

“The issues that caused the late reporting of drinking water test results were merely administrative and have no bearing on the quality of data reported by BC Laboratories Inc.,” said Technical Director Stuart Buttram. “BC…has performed a root cause analysis and corrected the issues and put in place ironclad procedures in order to stop any future occurrences.”

Zalco Laboratories Inc. was fined by the California Water Board in August 2019 after the board found two instances in which the company failed to report results from drinking water samples, one in 2018 and one in 2019. Both results were more than 200 days late, according to the violation order. 

The order does not indicate any deficiencies in the water samples. 

Under the violation order, Zalco Labs was required to submit a corrective action report. However, the board said the company failed to provide the report within 30 days of the violation order. 

The water board said it had issued an extension to Sept. 16, at which point the company submitted the report. 

However, the board said in reviewing the report that it found that Zalco Labs had not submitted evidence that new policies had been put in place to prevent future violations and that it is unclear when corrective actions and training were implemented. 

As the state said the report did not adequately address the violations, the company was fined $3,400 in November and is required to submit a satisfactory corrective actions report. 

“Zalco Laboratories provides accurate, timely and cost-effective environmental compliance and chemistry testing services,” the company said in a statement. “We are committed to complying with all government regulations in a timely manner.”

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