Water utility operator files false test results
Edward O’Rourke, the now-suspended licensed operator for the New Brunswick Water Utility, allegedly filed false reports for various water quality tests, submitted incorrectly calculated test results and failed to notify the public when standards were not met, according to a statement from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The NJDEP suspended his license without pay and fined him $17,000, said Russell Marchetta, spokesman for the City of New Brunswick.
“He has asked for an administrative hearing about the issues, and he will be getting one,” Marchetta said.
The NJDEP, assisted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, investigated water quality data kept by the New Brunswick Water Department and reported to the NJDEP, according to the statement. The NJDEP and EPA investigation, which looked at internal records kept by the water department, found that the system repeatedly violated those standards.
“New Jersey sets a high bar when it comes to monitoring the safety of drinking water,” said Bob Martin, commissioner of the NJDEP in the statement. “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.”
From 2010 to 2013, there was a falsification of records, Marchetta said. In that time, there were no reports of health issues and no calls about the quality of the water from the general public.
“We want people to know the water is safe to drink in New Brunswick and at Rutgers,” he said. “It doesn’t look like anyone was put at a health risk.”
While the NJDEP 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, according to the statement.
In March, the city faced an issue with the waters turbidity, or the cloudiness in the water, Marchetta said. It was determined that a boil-water advisory was not needed. In June, another issue with the waters turbidity arose. A public notice was released, but again, without a boil water advisory.
The second issue prompted Frank Marascia, the department’s new director, to begin an investigation, according to the statement. While the issue was quickly resolved, the NJDEP and Marascia reviewed internal records of water quality data, such as logbooks 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 the investigation, the NJDEP 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, according to the statement.
In the Administrative Orders issued by the NJDEP, they determined New Brunswick repeatedly violated national drinking water quality standards for turbidity, total coliforms and residual disinfectant levels between January 2010 and June 2013.
“New Brunswick covered up these violations by submitting false information in reports to the [NJDEP] and failed to issue mandatory public health and safety notices when these violations occurred,” according to an Administrative Order. “New Brunswick failed to provide a Tier 1 Public Notice within 24 hours for the violations.”
As a result of the investigation, the NJDEP alleges that the New Brunswick Water Department submitted false results for turbidity, used outdated charts that resulted in the incorrect calculations for results of tests designed to show how effective disinfection was at destroying pathogens, according to the statement.
The release also said the department 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.
Once the falsification of records was discovered in June, the water department took the necessary steps to correct the problems to ensure the water is safe for drinking, Marchetta said.
According to the statement, the utility has undergone significant reorganization under Marascia and has brought on a new team of professionals to operate the plant. The city has also contacted a consulting firm to implement corrective strategies.
“We move forward from here,” Marchetta said. “We have taken corrective measures to ensure something like this never happens again.”