- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A former water testing lab employee was sentenced to two years in prison Wednesday for participating in a false sampling scheme for southern West Virginia coal mines.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports (https://bit.ly/2jozkIH) that U.S. District Judge Irene Berger sentenced John Brewer to the maximum penalty allowed. Brewer pleaded guilty last year to one count of falsifying water sample reports under the Clean Water Act.

Under the federal law, companies with water pollution permits are required to take samples and submit reports to the state Department of Environmental Protection on whether the companies are in compliance with allowed pollution discharge limits. State and federal agencies take some samples, but the majority of sampling is done by companies, with results filed with the government for review.

Brewer is a former manager at Appalachian Laboratories in Beckley. Prosecutors said he and other lab workers often backdated water samples to avoid taking more samples that would reveal water quality violations.

Another ex-lab employee, John Shelton, is serving a 21-month prison sentence in a plea deal over faking water reports. Shelton acknowledged that he diluted water samples, substituted water he knew to be clean, and did not keep water samples refrigerated, as required by state and federal rules.

The false sampling occurred between 2008 and 2013. Berger said the crime undermined a key part of the nation’s environmental protection program, put communities at risk and allowed companies to discharge excess pollution without fear of getting caught.

Brewer said there were a lot of “misconceptions” about what he had done, but did not explain further.

“I did plead guilty, I stand by that, and I apologize,” Brewer told the judge.

John Wooten, one of Brewer’s lawyers, had asked the judge to issue a sentence that included probation, but no jail time. Wooten said that what Brewer had done was not nearly as serious as the Freedom Industries chemical spill, which tainted drinking water for Kanawha Valley residents.

Two Freedom officials were each sentenced to 30 days in jail for their roles in the spill.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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