NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For several hours over the weekend of May 16-17, half of the city’s Water Treatment Plant was taken offline due to a problem with the feeding of aluminum sulfate, an important chemical in the treatment process.
City officials say they believe that issues with the water treatment process began around noon on Saturday, May 16 and were not discovered for about three hours.
“On Saturday afternoon, a chemical feed issue was discovered, leading to the gravity filters at the plant being taken offline,” said city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw.
Half of the plant uses more advanced “membrane” filters, but the side of the plant that treats water using older “gravity” filters have been giving the city problems for years.
“All water was pushed through the membrane filters while the gravity filters were temporarily out of use,” said Bradshaw a spokesperson for Mayor and Acting Water Director James Cahill.
“I am told that all water was believed to be properly filtered and no improperly filtered water went out for public consumption,” Bradshaw said.
It is possible that hundreds of thousands of gallons of water were also dumped into the city’s sewer system during the downtime. Bradshaw said that flow was “unmetered” and that the chemical feed issue was remedied the same day.
Still, the spokesperson could not say exactly how long the gravity filters were down for.
“I don’t know what time gravity filters came back on. Membrane filters were used while they were offline.”
“This wasn’t an issue that required public notification, nor does it classify as a violation. No improperly filtered water was released for public consumption,” said Bradshaw.
This incident comes on the heels of revelations that a private company hired by Cahill and the City Council to take over some of the utility’s functions was responsible for eleven water treatment violations in late 2014 and early 2015.
Previously, before the city signed a short-term privatization agreement with New Jersey American Water, it had admitted to falsifying water quality reports, and failing to notify the public that dangerous microbes could have been in their water on seven different occasions between 2010 and 2013.
City Council President Kevin Egan did not respond to a phone message left at his office. He has previously professed unwavering support for Mayor and Acting Water Director Cahill.
“Like I told you before, or whoever I told before, in government and life, people make mistakes,” said Egan.
“But if you think for a second that [Business Administrator Thomas] Loughlin, Mayor Cahill, or anybody sitting at this table wants a lousy water department or lousy water quality you are sadly mistaken and you should be you should be writing for science fiction novels somewhere else.”
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, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.