In a lawsuit filed on July 14 in a California federal court, consultant Tetra Tech EC claims that five direct competitors hired by the U.S. Navy to investigate "inconsistent and unsupported allegations" by whistle blowers about the firm’s environmental restoration at the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco used unscientific criteria to review its work and filed reports based on “junk science” that damaged the Pasadena, Calif., company’s reputation.
The suit was filed against CH2M, now owned by Jacobs Engineering, as well as Battelle, Cabrera Services, Permafix Environmental Services and SC&A.
In the complaint, Tetra Tech seeks unspecified compensatory and special damages and a trial by jury.
The suit claims that the firms' review incorrectly concluded that data potentially was manipulated or falsified throughout Tetra Tech’s cleanup of the large former naval base that is set for major residential redevelopment and remains a federal Superfund site.
“The defendant consultants produced a series of draft reports which contain demonstrably invalid findings that have no basis in science, statistics, contract or environmental law, and that are based upon incorrect assumptions and unproved methodologies,” Tetra Tech claims.
To read the lawsuit, click here.
In a separate pending case related to Hunters' Point, Tetra Tech filed a motion on July 16 to dismiss a previously filed class action suit by 9,280 residents who claim the firm has liability for alleged health impacts based on its work at the site. The firm claims the suit is without merit, saying the US Navy is responsible for the former base's contamination, and that it is based on "unsupported speculation about alleged widespread data falsification." A hearing in the case is set for Sept. 10 in federal district court in San Francisco.
And in yet another separate site-related pending legal action, Tetra Tech has until July 23 to file a motion in that same federal court to dismiss three whistleblower lawsuits alleging it submitted false claims to the Navy for radiological remediation and support services at Hunters' Point. The U.S. Justice Dept. joined the whistle blower lawsuits in early 2019.
Related to the competitors' lawsuit, Tetra Tech claims that their draft reports were made public and have become the center of a “massive, unfounded controversy." The company claims the competitors' review "was so inappropriately outcome-oriented and its conclusions so preconceived that it would cast doubt on any environmental cleanup by any company in the country. "
Tetra Tech did not respond to an ENR request for more comment, Jacobs declined further comment and the other defendants could not be reached.
According to the complaint, the defendants knew they that they stood to gain significant benefit should Tetra Tech’s data be labeled suspect or unreliable, because they would be hired to re-do its work. “Enticed by this windfall, the consultants gamed their analysis to carelessly, erroneously, and without foundation conclude that plaintiff’s data had been potentially manipulated and/or falsified,” Tetra Tech said, asserting that its reputation and business have been harmed.
The firm also said in the complaint that the defendant companies have since received a $200-million contract to conduct field work across the site.
The complaint stems from a soil sample that had lower than expected Potassium-40 levels, a naturally occurring radioisotope throughout Hunters Point.
In an investigation in conjunction with the Navy, Tetra Tech determined the likely cause of the lower level was that the sample was not collected from the location identified and that technicians associated with other irregular samples were removed from work on the Hunters Point project. Tetra Tech investigated 30 soil samples that possibly were suspect and issued a report to the Navy in 2014, according to the complaint.
A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigation determined that two individuals on their own gathered samples from inappropriate areas. In 2017 two former Tetra Tech employees pleaded guilty to altering records. Employees from New World Environmental, a previous contractor hired by Tetra Tech, filed a False Claims Act complaint against the company in 2013.
In 2016 others filed allegations relating to remediation and construction work by Tetra Tech and Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure at Hunters Point, and at the Treasure Island Naval Station and Alameda Naval Station also in California. The complaints are connected to a long-time employee of New World Environmental who admitted to switching soil samples and falsifying sample records, Tetra Tech says in its suit.
The Navy assembled a team to evaluate the radiological data collected by Tetra Tech and hired the defendants to investigate the data, which resulted in the draft reports, according to the firm's complaint.
"The evaluation team did not use methods based on science or statistics," says the lawsuit. As a result, "the draft reports invent data unreliability, and then mischaracterize both the existence and degree of data unreliability at the site," it adds, citing examples of the team’s "negligence" that include "making biased and incorrect assumptions, using arbitrary 'logic' tests, misapplying statistical analyses, applying subjective decision rules inconsistently, and omitting key data from data graphs and plots."
The evaluation team also did not take steps "to ensure consistency across its team members’ analyses and appears to have employed unqualified personnel who did not meet the job qualification standards specified by the Navy,” the complaint alleges.
An example of a “logic test” was whether all samples had been collected on the same day, Tetra Tech claims, "a meaningless criterion because there is no rationale or requirement to collect samples on the same day."
The company also claims in the suit that CH2M is a direct competitor for similar work from the Navy and has reason to undermine Tetra Tech’s work and the reliability of its data to gain an unfair competitive advantage.