Politics & Government

Wichita lab technician ‘fudged’ sewage test results, city says

A Wichita lab technician “fudged” the test results of wastewater the city dumps into the Arkansas River from the sewage treatment plant, Director of Public Works Alan King said.

The false test results were reported about a month ago, and the employee has since resigned, he said Tuesday.

The city caught the error during a spot check and immediately reported it to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, King said.

It didn’t put the public in danger and shouldn’t affect any of Wichita’s permits, he said.

The test results falsely reported the amount of total suspended solids, which is a measure of how much organic and inorganic substance is floating in the water. It’s generally used as an indicator of sediment or silt in the water. King said the test results before and after the lab technician’s false results show that the city likely stayed within an acceptable range.

“KDHE really puts a premium on having the numbers. Whether they affect your permit violations or not, they still want to have the numbers,” King said.

The technician’s motivations for fudging the numbers remain murky.

“I’m not really sure (why),” King said. “I know that there were some training issues with this individual, but I haven’t got the details of why that person did what they did.”

King said the city wants to put in stronger controls to prevent something like that happening again.

“Fortunately for us, those numbers did not materially impact our compliance with our permit, so we’re okay. There won’t be any ramifications to the city in terms of our permit, penalties, those sorts of things.

“But part of what makes this work is we have the confidence of KDHE because they know we take this sort of thing seriously,” he said.

KDHE did not respond Tuesday afternoon to questions. It’s unknown how long the data was falsified.

Public works may bring in an outside firm to examine the city’s wastewater operating procedures and quality control measures to make sure the city doesn’t get into any trouble in the future, King said.

“We want to make certain that we are as tight a ships as we can be in terms of permit compliance,” he said. “That’s so important.”

Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.