County utilities worker fired over mishandling water samples

Posted on Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 10:11 am

A Caroline County employee was fired in November due to mishandling of water samples that he collected for the utilities department for laboratory testing, The Caroline Progress has learned.

The Board of Supervisors met in closed session in November and was briefed by County Administrator Charles Culley on the employee’s dismissal.

Arthur Griffin had been an employee of the county’s department of public utilities for over 20 years. He had several years of experience in collecting samples from the county’s public water system.

The Caroline Progress contacted Griffin’s home by phone several times. On each occasion, his wife said he would not talk to the newspaper about his dismissal.

Water samples are collected regularly from county wells and then sent to a laboratory to be tested. The laboratory notifies the county of the test results as well as the Virginia Department of Health’s office of drinking water.

“The mishandling of the samples was caught by the county during a routine quality review or evaluation of their routine sampling that they do each month,” said Hugh J. Eggborn, field director in Culpeper of the office of drinking water. “They caught the mishandling of the samples and informed us in the same month. There were no violations and no evidence of a previous incident.”

Eggborn would not comment specifically about the employee’s actions except to say that incidents like this are “very infrequent.”

“We have to rely on the county to collect the samples appropriately and at the right locations and at the right time,” said Eggborn. The state health department oversees the operation of 2,859 public water systems serving 7 million Virginia residents.

“We found irregularities and contacted the health department and re-sampled,” said Joey Schiebel, interim director of the county’s public utilities department. “There were no violations and no dangers to the water.”

“All I can say is that there were inaccuracies in the water sampling,” said Schiebel.

Customers of the county’s water system were in no anger, he emphasized. “If there had been any issues with the employee with public safety, we would have to put notices on radio, in newspapers and on TV,” Schiebel said. “We have to let people know to boil water” if it is unsafe to drink. “Luckily, it was just an irregularity that happened just one month.”

“There have been no water quality issues or violations with Caroline County back to 2006,” said Eggborn.

When he learned of inaccuracies in the water sampling, Schiebel reported them to the state health department and to the county administrator, he said. The county administration staff conducted an investigation, he said.

Culley declined to comment on the incident. “With a personnel matter, I cannot comment,” he said.

Employees who collect water samples must undergo training and obtain a license through the Virginia Board for Waterworks and Wastewater Works Operators and Onsite Sewage System Professionals, Eggborn said.

County employees collect water samples that are tested for lead, bacteria, copper, barium, nitrites, fluoride, radium, chlorine byproducts, and other contaminants, Schiebel said.

“Certain samples have to be kept on ice to keep them at a certain temperature,” said Schiebel, who’s been with the department for 19 years. “A lot of people have no idea how much goes into protecting public water. Our requirements are far more than what is required for bottled water.”

The county’s public water system is supplied by groundwater wells that vary from 300 to 500 feet in depth and reach down to bedrock. Since the water comes from deep wells rather than a river or reservoir, the system does not need a water treatment plant, although chlorine is added to the water where needed.

Water quality is improving because the county invested over $1 million in sand filters earlier this year to extract iron and manganese from the water, noted Schiebel.

The public utilities department has 23 full-time and 20 part-time employees who are responsible for the water system, the wastewater treatment system, solid waste collection and maintenance of three parks.



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