- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A Raleigh County laboratory is appealing a decision by state environmental regulators to revoke its certification to perform water sampling and analysis after a worker pleaded guilty to tampering.

Appalachian Laboratories Inc. on Thursday asked the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board in Charleston to put the decision by the Department of Environmental Protection on hold pending a hearing.

The appeal said the lab’s certification is unrelated to the conduct of former field technician and manager John W. Shelton. He pleaded guilty earlier this month in federal court to tampering with water samples in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Appalachian Laboratories said the order could potentially force the lab to cease operations and lay off most or all of its 35 employees.

The lab conducted water sampling and analysis to ensure that pollutant discharges from coal mining operations into public waterways didn’t exceed permitted limits.

Shelton, 47, of Daniels, faces up to five years in prison when he’s sentenced on Feb. 26 in U.S. District Court in Beckley. Daniels told the court that he and other employees added distilled water to samples to dilute them. The dilution made it appear that the samples were within permissible limits.

Appalachian Laboratories attorney Joseph Jenkins noted Shelton’s actions alleged by federal prosecutors ended in July 2013, while the DEP recertified the lab in August 2014 after a compliance audit. The DEP revocation order occurred Tuesday.

Jenkins said citing Shelton’s guilty plea isn’t enough reason for DEP to revoke the certification.

“The revocation order lacks substantial information,” Jenkins wrote. “It fails to mention any specific, wrongful conduct. It fails to explain or show how the alleged wrongful conduct caused inaccurate data and tests to be submitted.”

Attorneys for the citizen group Appalachian Mountain Advocates on Thursday urged the DEP to reject data submitted by Appalachian Laboratories as part of pending mining permit applications or requests for the release of mining reclamation bonds and direct coal operations to use other certified labs.

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