DEP TAKES ENFORCEMENT ACTION AGAINST NEW BRUNSWICK WATER
DEPARTMENT FOR SUBMITTING FALSE WATER DATA REPORTS
WATER SYSTEM IMPLEMENTED QUICK CORRECTIVE ACTIONS, NOW BEING MONITORED BY DEP AND EPA
(13/P101) TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has filed Administrative Orders alleging the New Brunswick Water Department and its now-suspended licensed operator, Edward O’Rourke, repeatedly filed false reports for various water quality tests, submitted incorrectly calculated test results, and failed to notify the public when standards were not met, Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
“New Jersey sets a high bar when it comes to monitoring the safety of drinking water,” Commissioner Martin said. “These are serious violations. It is critical that water providers maintain and provide accurate records of water system operations and water quality data. Any deviation from those standards is an unacceptable violation of the public trust. Maintaining the integrity of our potable water supply system is vital in New Jersey.’’
The DEP, assisted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), investigated water quality data kept by the New Brunswick Water Department and reported to the DEP. From early 2010 to spring 2013, New Brunswick Water Department repeatedly reported no problems with drinking water standards for key water criteria used to measure the potential for pathogens to be in the water supply. The DEP and EPA investigation, which looked closely at internal records kept by the water department, found that the system repeatedly violated these standards.
While the DEP has no direct evidence that public health was impacted, the violations are considered to be serious because they had the potential to expose the public to disease-causing microorganisms.
The utility serves some 50,000 people in New Brunswick, and also sells bulk water to the Milltown Water Department and Franklin Township, a community water system in Somerset County. The system draws water from two surface supplies, Weston’s Mill Pond and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. Water from these sources is treated at the Comstock Street Water Treatment Plant.
The investigation began in mid-June after the utility’s new director, Frank Marascia, reported a problem with water turbidity, a measure of the clarity of water as it enters the treatment process. While the issue was quickly resolved, the DEP and Marascia started looking more closely at internal records of water quality data, such as log books and chains of custody documents. These records are the basis of routine reports the utility is required to file with the DEP.
As part of its investigation, the DEP conducted numerous inspections of the treatment plant in June and July. The DEP and EPA also conducted a thorough review of New Brunswick’s monitoring data, analytical results, chain of custody forms, daily monitoring records and logbooks and forms the utility used to report results to the DEP.
As a result of its investigation, the DEP alleges that the New Brunswick Water Department:
- Submitted false results for turbidity, an important performance standard that measures water’s clarity and quality. The more turbid water is, the more likely it is to carry pathogens
- Used outdated charts that resulted in incorrect calculations for results of tests designed to show how effective disinfection was at destroying pathogens, namely Giardia lamblia. Giardia is used as an indicator of other potentially dangerous pathogens in the water;
- Submitted false information on tests for total coliforms, an indicator of bacteria that is used to determine if further testing is required for more serious pathogens such as E. coli.
In the related Administrative Order and Notice of Civil Penalty Assessment against O’Rourke, the DEP alleges that the licensed operator reported false results to the DEP on required forms and monthly reports, although he certified them as accurate. The DEP has suspended O’Rourke’s operating license and fined him $17,000.
Once the reporting failures were discovered, the New Brunswick Water Department immediately implemented a number of steps to ensure the safety of its water supply, including adjusting disinfection, correcting calculations and establishing protocols to ensure samples are tested properly.
“We are very confident that the new management at the water department has taken all necessary and appropriate steps to correct these problems and that the city’s water is safe for consumption,” said DEP Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement John Giordano. “The DEP, along with the EPA, will continue to work very closely with the city to ensure these problems never happen again.”
The utility has undergone a significant reorganization under Marascia and has brought on a new team or professionals to operate the plant. The city has also engaged a consulting firm to implement strategies to implement corrective strategies.
The DEP reserves the right to seek monetary penalties against the city. The city must also work with the DEP as it develops public notices for newspapers, radio and TV, as well as direct mailings to customers explaining the problem and corrective actions that have been taken. These notices are expected to be issued within several weeks.
For copies of the DEP orders, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/ao-new-brunswick.pdf and http://www.nj.gov/dep/docs/ao-edward-o-rourke.pdf