Attorney General files charges against water treatment plant manager at North Bend fire academy

Firefighters training at the Washington State Fire Training Academy (FTA) in North Bend between 2012 and 2014 may have been exposed to contaminated water, according to court documents filed March 1 by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Ferguson named wastewater plant operator George Campbell and the company he owns, Broadband Environmental Service Inc., based in Shelton, in charges he filed late Tuesday. Campbell and his company will face seven misdemeanor and felony charges in King County Superior Court, for falsifying data filed with the state Department of Ecology and violating the state's Reclaimed Water Use Act.

According to court documents, Campbell's company was contracted to operate the Fire Training Academy's (FTA's) wastewater treatment plant from 2009 to September, 2014. Once the water was treated to meet state standards for re-use, "the reclaimed water from the FTA reclaim facility was used by firefighters for fire-fighting exercises, and was occasionally sprayed on firefighters themselves on unseasonably hot days."

After the company's contract ended in 2014, many data discrepancies were discovered and approximately 22 months of state-required electronic data from Broadband's contract period had disappeared. From 2012-14, the state alleged, Campbell falsified water quality data 177 times in reports to the Department Ecology.

Among the problems with the recorded data, Ecology staffer Amy Jankowiak wrote in a statement of probable cause, were pH levels lower than the 6.0 minimum for 15 days, missing or inconsistent reports on coliform bacteria for 10 days and an estimated 170 days of falsified UV transmittance data.

Campbell admitted to falsifying the pH and coliform numbers, in an attempt to figure out what was causing the low pH levels. Also, "Campbell stated that in his opinion, the coliform limits were overly restrictive and that he thought some of the total coliform samples taken and analyzed by maintenance staff were taken from the influent instead of the effluent."

He said he'd also "estimated the (UV) transmittance after-the-fact using his experience and he thought what he was doing was fine."

Jankowiak's report also listed several problems with the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and total suspended solids (TSS) data in his reports.

Charges against Campbell include five gross misdemeanor counts: Submitting false and fabricated water quality data; failure to maintain adequate and complete records; failure to report data; and allowing distribution of reclaimed water that did not meet quality requirements.

Campbell is charged with five counts of falsifying water quality data. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.

Charges against Broadband include: Conspiracy to file a false record, a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine; and filing a false record, a felony with the same penalties.

The lead prosecutor is Assistant Attorney General Bill Sherman.

Reclaimed water from the academy has at times been sprayed directly on firefighters, structures and the surrounding land.

"Clean water is vital to the health and safety of Washington residents, and protecting it is one of my top priorities," said Ferguson. "I won't tolerate a business padding its bottom line by taking shortcuts at the expense of public health and our environment."

The Fire Training Academy produces up to 23,610 gallons per day of reclaimed water. The water consists of domestic wastewater from dormitories, offices, classroom buildings and the kitchen. The treatment plant pumps the reclaimed water to a storage pond that ultimately supplies water for firefighting exercises.

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