CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- The U.S. Geological Survey has said it fired a geologist because he warned Jefferson County residents that a wood treatment plant threatened the local water supply.

Initially, USGS District Chief David Appel denied that geologist Robert Beckett of Shepherdstown was fired, saying his services no longer were needed because a new worker had been hired.

But Appel said last week that Beckett was fired Feb. 1, a day after the geologist testified at a public hearing. "Since this {was} a scientific study, Mr. Beckett agreed to refrain from becoming involved with any politically sensitive ground-water issues -- but he has," Appel said.

The USGS is conducting a $200,000 ground-water study in Jefferson County, and Beckett was working for the agency as an outside observer. Appel said USGS policy forbids workers from being involved in "politically sensitive" issues.

Beckett said the agency had warned him "to keep a low profile," but he said the issue of ground-water contamination was too important. He said a wood treatment plant being built by Universal Wood Products at Ranson is a potential threat to Jefferson County's water supply because of the area's geography. The county is pockmarked with limestone caverns and underground streams making the ground water susceptible to spills. The plant would use chemicals such as arsenic.