Former Lake City Borough Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Pleads Guilty To Violating The Clean Water Act
ERIE, Pa. - A resident of Girard, Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of violating the Clean Water Act by tampering with required monitoring methods and submitting false statements, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.
Mark Ventresca, 52, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge David S. Cercone.
In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that from December 2008 to December 2012, Ventresca engaged in violations of the Clean Water Act and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit by providing false information on the Discharge Monitoring Reports submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. According to information provided to the Court, Ventresca, who was a certified wastewater operator licensed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was employed by the Lake City Borough Wastewater Treatment Plant as the operator of the Plant until he gave up his wastewater operating license on March 25, 2014 and resigned as the Plant operator. The Lake City Borough Wastewater Treatment Plant (the Plant) is located at 1150 Maple Avenue, Lake City, Erie County, Pennsylvania. The Plant operated pursuant to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, effective December 1, 2009 through November 30, 2014. Subject to specific discharge limitations, the permit allowed direct wastewater discharge into the Elk Creek, a water of the United States, which flows 2.08 miles into Lake Erie, an interstate waterway and a navigable-in-fact water of the United States. The Presque Isle State Park and swimming beaches are approximately six miles downstream from the Plant’s outfall. The Erie County Health Department conducted inspections of the Plant in August 2012 and January 2013 and found discrepancies between the water sampling test results which were reported by Ventresca and the actual sample test results obtained from a contracted laboratory. The matter was referred to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for further inquiry, and a criminal investigation referral was made to the EPA.
According to information presented in court, the Plant permit set discharge limits for pollutants, including, for example, Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Fecal Coliform, Total Phosphorus, pH, Dissolved Oxygen (DO), and Total Residual Chlorine (TRC). During the timeframe between December 2008 and December 2012, Ventresca engaged in violations of the Lake City Borough Wastewater Treatment Plant NPDES permit, in part, by 1) failing to treat the wastewater by not adding adequate amounts of chemical reagents to disinfect the pollutants; 2) failing to properly test for pH, Dissolved Oxygen (DO) and/or Total Residual Chlorine (TRC) by taking a daily grab sample as required under the permit; 3) falsifying sampling results for pH, DO and TRC when no daily samples were collected; 4) falsifying analytical laboratory results for the weekly 24-hour composite sample for phosphorus; 5) failing to use a required sampling method by substituting an 8-hour composite sampler for the required 24-hour composite sampler to collect phosphorus samples; 6) falsifying analytical laboratory results for the weekly grab sample for fecal coliform; 7) falsifying weekly 24-hour composite sample for Total Suspended Solids (TSS); and, 8) discharging pollutants into waters of the United States in violation of numerical permit limits. To cover up his failure to properly operate and maintain the Plant in accordance with the permit, Ventresca routinely submitted false sampling results in monthly Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The NPDES permit required submission of monthly DMRs which were supposed to contain sampling results representative of the monthly discharges. The criminal charge to which Ventresca pleaded guilty specifically identified examples of Ventresca’s false statements concerning the testing results for Fecal Coliform and Phosphorus. Based upon the violations of the Lake City Borough Wastewater Treatment Plant NPDES permit, PADEP issued a Consent Order and Agreement (CO&A) to Ventresca. On March 25, 2014, Ventresca signed his CO&A and surrendered his wastewater operator’s license. At the same time, he resigned as the Plant operator.
“Our office has taken an aggressive approach on environmental enforcement because it is the right thing to do for people and future generations,” said U.S. Attorney Hickton. “We are making effective enforcement of the federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts an important priority of our work.”
“Government regulators rely on accurate data to ensure water quality is maintained and this case underscores the serious nature of falsified sampling and laboratory data reports.” said Jennifer Lynn, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Pennsylvania. “The failure to follow the requirements of the Clean Water Act jeopardizes public health and could have resulted in the otherwise undetected pollution of recreational waterways near this wastewater discharge facility.”
Judge Cercone scheduled sentencing for Nov. 21, 2016 at 12:45 p.m. The law provides for a total sentence of 2 years in prison, a fine of $10,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Pending sentencing, the court released Ventresca on bond.
Assistant United States Attorney Marshall J. Piccinini is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division; the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Northwest Regional Office; the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, and the Erie County, Pennsylvania Health Department conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Ventresca.