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Water Today Title November 24, 2017

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Updated 11/28/13

Fixing the books - How a city put its people in peril

By Kelsey Keohane, Water Today

Serious water quality violations at the New Brunswick (NJ) Water Department puts public health in jeopardy. Failure to comply with standard regulations surrounding water quality, testing, and treatment leave thousands at risk of exposure to “disease-causing microorganisms,” according to the latest press release issued by the city.

In an interview with Kelsey Keohane of water.ca, New Brunswick Today journalist, Charles Kratovil, lays out an incredible series of misdeeds and deceit that brings us to the present situation. As of November 27, 2013, New Brunswick faces the public’s wrath after failing to comply with state and federal laws which require them to notify the public of potentially dangerous water. From January 2010 to May 2013, the New Brunswick Water Department failed to issue the necessary public health and safety notices, prompting federal investigation. The investigation found the water to be unnaturally cloudy which can interfere with the disinfection process and support microbial growth.

In the official press release issued by the city, officials admit that the New Brunswick Water Department “violated numerous treatment and monitoring requirements of the Federal and State Safe Drinking Water Act Regulations” and failed to notify the public of potentially dangerous water. It was also stated that the turbidity and inadequate treatment of the water provides a medium for “bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.” The announcement urges those people most at risk within the community - people with lowered immune systems, infants, and the elderly - to seek advice from health care professionals about drinking water.

In addition to the approximately 60,000 residents of New Brunswick, the city also supplies water to two neighbouring towns; Milltown and Franklin Township. The New Brunswick Water Utility is Milltown’s sole water source, while the Franklin Township receives water from multiple sources including New Brunswick. Both towns have held council meetings following the official announcement, however little is known about how they plan to proceed.

Investigations performed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) revealed that on at least six occasions the New Brunswick Water Department violated water quality and monitoring regulations and failed notify their customers or the NJDEP as required. Customers are supposed to be notified within 24 hours of an incident with an advisory to boil their water before use.

For two months, between December 2011 and January 2012, water quality readings did not meet standards due to high levels of turbidity. The public was not notified within the required 30-day time frame. Furthermore, between January 2010 and June 2012, the treatment plant which is responsible for conducting required turbidity readings in individual filters performed these readings on an hourly basis rather than continually as required.

On eight separate occasions the city also failed to adequately test the water for coliform bacteria. Nor did they collect and analyze 50 different samples from various geographical sites as required. While coliform bacteria are not generally harmful, the announcement states that these bacteria are “naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present.”

Additionally, between January 2010 and May 2013, there were violations regarding the methodology for monitoring residual chlorine. These tests were only done hourly rather than continually as required and were not reported to NJDEP and the public.

Moving forward, the City’s licensed operator has been suspended without pay while awaiting an administrative heading. The City has also authorized a Comprehensive Performance Evaluation of the water treatment plant. This includes a review of “technology, personnel, policies, procedures and budgetary matters,” according to the public announcement. Until then, the City and State government is working to keep the public informed of any developments as the investigation remains underway.

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