NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Officials confirmed at Wednesday's City Council meeting that the city's embattled Water Utility was fined in 2008 for violating federal regulations on water quality testing.
Though it is a matter of public record, the violation and the fine had not been previously reported in the press.
The violation occurred in October 2007, and the state's Department of Environmental Protection decided it was significant enough to issue a $2,500 fine to the city a year later.
Last month, the DEP announced it was handing down a $17,000 fine to Edward O'Rourke, the treatment plant operator for over 25 years. The DEP said they reserve the right to fine the city as well.
The new revelation comes as the NJ Attorney General's office proceeds with a new investigation into falsified reports submitted by the utility between 2010 and 2013 and repeated coverups of unacceptable water quality over the course of that time.
The $2,500 fine was for failure to test for Trihalomethanes (THM) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA5). The city missed a required deadline to test quarterly for both groups of chemicals.
The inspections summary reads as follows: "Failure to perform TTHM & HAA5 monitoring as required by the federal regulations. [New Brunswick Water Dept.] did not collect samples in the 3rd quarter of 2007. Requirement: 4 samples/quarter Sample dates: 2/21/07, 5/22/07, 10/2/07."
Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin, who was in charge of the department at the time, had little to say about the incident under questioning at last night's meeting.
"There was a fine," admitted Loughlin, after being asked directly by New Brunswick Today for the third time.
"I would like to research the situation that led to that fine," said Loughlin, pointing out that the council approved the payment by resolution in 2008. There is no mention of the fine in meeting minutes.
Loughlin took over the department on a temporary basis after Water Director Shawn Maloney committed suicide. Maloney shot himself in the head hours after learning he was the target of a federal corruption investigation.
The "temporary" appointment lasted for more than five years. Mayor James Cahill initially told a Star-Ledger reporter that Loughlin would receive no additional compensation for his new duties.
But, as he grew into the role, Loughlin was given an extra $15,000 in salary and a city truck, all the while being lauded for his double duties managing two of the city's ten departments at the same time.
When Cahill made the appointment, which was originally characterized as temporary, it was not because of Loughlin's expertise or knowledge of water systems. It was instead his knowledge of the criminal case proceeding against his predacessor.
According to a February 4, 2007 Star-Ledger article by Nawal Qarooni:
Cahill said Loughlin was chosen because of his familiarity with the ongoing federal investigation.
"We're compiling information in response to the federal subpoenas," Cahill said. "Earlier this week we forwarded some materials and gave the U.S. Attorney's Office an indication of the remaining volume and anticipated time frame they will receive them."
Both the Business Administrator's office and City Clerk's office have been slow to respond to New Brunswick Today's requests for information about the water problems. The author of this article had to ask several times before getting confirmation of the fine from Loughlin at Wednesday's City Council meeting.
The video of the council meeting has not yet been made public.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, THM and HAA5 are groups of chemicals "that are formed along with other disinfection byproducts when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water."
The full inspection report, including the violation, also includes the name of Edward O'Rourke the plant's licensed operator.
The full inspection report, made available on the DEP's website, is available below:
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.