Former Wastewater Treatment Plant Worker Sentenced for Falsifying Records

Nov. 11, 2020

A former wastewater treatment plant worker has been sentenced for falsifying Clean Water Act records

A Sioux City, Iowa man who conspired to rig environmental testing at a large Iowa regional wastewater treatment plant was sentenced.

71-year-old Patrick Schwarte from Sioux City, Iowa pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of conspiracy and one count of knowingly falsifying, tampering with, and rendering inaccurate a monitoring device or method required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act, reported Siouxland News.

Schwarte was employed at the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant for over 30 years. He maintained a wastewater treatment certification from the State of Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources and extensive training and experience in municipal wastewater treatment.

Under a Clean Water Act permit, the plant was required to treat wastewater before discharging it into the Missouri River, which is heavily used for local recreational use. 

Between Mar. 15th and Nov. 15th each year, when public use of the Missouri River was at its highest levels, the plant was also required to disinfect its wastewater to remove potentially dangerous human pathogens, including fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli.

From Jul. 2012 through Jun. 2015, Schwarte and his direct supervisor tampered with the monitoring methods. This ensured the plant would pass all of its tests, reported Siouxland News. 

Early in the morning on testing days for bacteria, they instructed first-shift operators at the plant to increase the rate of liquid chlorine supplied to the wastewater. After an hour or two passed, they ordered the plant’s first-shift operators to use hand-held colorimeters to gauge the levels of chlorine. 

Only when the colorimeter “maxed out” would the Superintendent take a sample for fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli, reported Siouxland News. This procedure allowed for the chlorine in the wastewater to reach sufficient concentrations to avoid showing elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria or E. coli, which would violate the plants’ Clean Water Act permits.

The liquid chlorine rate was increased from about 2.5 gallons per hour to somewhere between 70 to 120 gallons per hour for up to two hours. Employees also maintained the chlorine feed rate at minimal levels.

The plant was also not operated or maintained in good working order, which also violated its permit.

As a result, Schwarte was sentenced to two years of probation, including two months of home confinement, and fined $5,000.

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Cristina Tuser