North Dakota DEQ Reprimands Scientist for Water Safety Concerns

North Dakota DEQ Reprimands Scientist for Water Safety Concerns

Environmental expert faced retaliation after flagging public water system issues.

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)—which safeguards the state's air and water—has come under the spotlight for taking punitive actions against one of its own.

In a statement dated August 23, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined that the DEQ had unlawfully retaliated against an environmental scientist who flagged concerns about the public water system throughout a six-month period.

The scientist’s complaints included the identification of discrepancies in data collection and reporting and a pattern of downgrading severe sanitary violations to minor ones. After the scientist contacted DEQ management and subsequently the EPA, the DEQ presented them with a written reprimand for the latter action.

“Employees have the right to report potential violations related to safe drinking water and it is illegal for employers to retaliate against those who do,” OSHA Regional Administrator Jennifer S. Rous from Denver said in a statement. “Our investigation and actions on the environmental scientist’s behalf showcase the U.S. Department of Labor’s commitment to staunchly defending workers’ rights.”

In response the DEQ’s actions, OSHA—which enforces the whistleblower clauses of the Safe Drinking Water Act—has now directed the agency to rescind the written reprimand from the scientist's personnel file. The DEQ and the scientist have 30 days to contest or seek a hearing.

About the Author

Robert Yaniz Jr. is the Content Editor for Environmental Protection.

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