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Local environmental officials throughout the Gulf Coast are feverishly collecting water, sediment and marine animal tissue samples that will be used in the coming months to help track pollution levels resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP. But the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients.
Some people are questioning the independence of the Texas lab. Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Fla., rebuffed instructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send water samples to the lab, which is based at TDI-Brooks International in College Station, Tex. He opted instead to get a waiver so he could send his county’s samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests.
Dismissing concerns about conflicts of interest at his lab, James M. Brooks, the president and chief executive of TDI-Brooks International, said his company was chosen because of its prior work for the federal government.
“It is a nonbiased process,” he said. “We give them the results, and they can have their lawyers argue over what the results mean.” He added that federal officials and BP were working together and sharing the test results.