Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Does this NJ enviro lab's settlement affect your company?

Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced earlier this month that Accutest Laboratories will pay the State $2 million to resolve allegations that it deviated from both federal and state requirements for the extraction and testing of certain compounds, thereby submitting false claims to the State and its agencies for payment.

Now, a New Jersey law firm with an active environmental practice is advising its clients and friends to check whether the settlement might affect test results provided to them by Accutest.

In a Dec. 10 news release, the AG's office said that Accutest, based in Dayton, Middlesex County, provides an array of environmental testing services, including the testing of semi-volatile organic compounds. The State and its agencies – including the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – have contracted with Accutest to perform a variety of environmental tests in its extraction laboratory.
The allegations central to the  settlement flow from a federal qui tam or “whistleblower” lawsuit filed two years ago by a former Accutest employee. The lawsuit alleged that Accutest violated both the federal and New Jersey False Claims Acts by not following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements in the extraction and testing of certain semi-volatile organic compounds.
Specifically,  the Complaint alleged that some line-level technicians in Accutest’s extraction laboratories did not fully comply with Standard Operating Procedures or prescribed methods.
While the bulk of today’s settlement covers False Claims Act damages, a portion — approximately $920,000 — resolves alleged violations by Accutest of DEP Regulations Governing the Certification of Laboratories and Environmental Measurements. Under the agreement, Accutest admits no wrongdoing or liability.
The settlement announced today represents the largest non-Medicaid-related False Claims Act settlement entered into by the State since New Jersey’s False Claims Act took effect in March 2008.
Accutest is a member of a network of environmental testing laboratories across the nation, each with a common parent owner.
In April 2013, former employee Koroush Vaziri field a qui tam action in U.S. District Court in New Jersey alleging the failure of Accutest to follow proper protocols in both its extraction laboratory and its laboratory for the analysis of semi-volatile organic compounds.

In a Dec. 23 alert, the Scarinci Hollenbeck law firm writes of the settlement:
Specifically, the DOJ and NJDEP alleged that Accutest, between January 1, 2011 and December 13, 2013: (1) did not properly extract samples because it did not perform the required number of shakes for water samples; (2) did not wait the required amount of time between shakes of the samples; (3)did not properly spike samples with a known compound as part of the quality control process, (4) performed analyses beyond the scope of its certification, and (5) altered the settings of its gas chromatography/mass spectrometry machines and disregarded calibration protocols.
As part of the settlements, Accutest is paying $3 million to the U.S. Department of Justice and $2 million to NJDEP. Under the settlements, Accutest is also required to notify its affected New Jersey clients of the alleged extraction and certification violations within 30 days, many of whom are expected to include environmental consulting firms.
Posing the question: Does this affect your company? the law firm advises:
If your company relied upon test results that were the subject of the settlements, we suggest that you ask your environmental consultant or environmental counsel to advise whether investigations at your site(s) or project(s) were affected and whether you have any regulatory or contractual exposure relating to the use of that data.

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