News Briefs: Lab Worker Caught on Camera Spiking Coworker's Samples

Also in this week's water and wastewater news, a treatment plant worker in Manitoba dies after falling from a chemical storage tank; and scientists detect traces of opioids in Puget Sound's mussel population

A former laboratory technician at the Billings (Montana) Water Treatment Plant is accused of contaminating her coworker's water test samples and causing the city to fail its state certification.

This all happened back in 2015, but now Michelle Henderson, 35, is scheduled to appear in court on a charge of tampering with public records.

According to a story by KTVQ News, Henderson’s own water tests weren’t failing, while those of the coworker failed on a daily basis. A supervisor even watched to make sure the tests were conducted properly before contacting Hach to help troubleshoot. No one could figure out what was happening.

But when Henderson left for a vacation that summer, none of the chemist’s tests failed, prompting the public works director to set up a surveillance camera that captured Henderson spiking the chemist’s samples with a white powder when she was out of the room.

In other water/wastewater news, a 58-year-old treatment plant worker died after falling from a large chemical storage tank at a water treatment facility east of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He had been working on equipment on top of the tank.

“Any time a worker doesn’t make it home at the end of the day, it’s a grim reminder of the work we still have to do to protect our members and all workers,” the man’s union wrote in a statement.

The incident is under investigation by Workplace Safety and Health.

Meanwhile, scientists have detected traces of opioids in mussels near Seattle and Bremerton in Washington’s Puget Sound. Mussels from three of 18 locations sampled tested positive for oxycodone that came via wastewater, according to the Puget Sound Institute at the University of Washington-Tacoma.

“What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound,” biologist Jennifer Lanksbury tells KIRO-7 News. “It’s telling me there’s a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area.”

While the opioids can’t be processed by mussels and don’t affect them directly, scientists say they could affect other fish species in Puget Sound.

In a somewhat related story, researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and U.S. EPA plan to conduct dye-tracing studies of shellfish in Plymouth Harbor, Kingston Bay and Duxbury Bay in Massachusetts this summer.

The research could help determine whether effluent from Plymouth Wastewater Treatment Plant impacts shellfish waters.

Rhodamine WT dye is being used to trace the effluent in the bays. Once the study is complete, a report will be published on its findings.


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