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NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ—A tractor trailer crash on Route 1 caused about 150 gallons of diesel fuel to spill into waterways near where the New Brunswick Water Utility draws its drinking water.
The city’s Water Treatment Plant typically treats water sucked out of the Westons Mill Pond, but the utility is fortunate to have a second source on the other side of town: the Delaware & Raritan Canal.
New Brunswick Water Director Alexei Walus confirmed that he switched to the drawing water from the canal water source on April 24, the same day that the crash occurred.
It’s not clear exactly when the crash occurred, but alerts went out at 8:20am about road closures near the intersection of Routes 1 and 130.
“There were two vehicles involved, a passenger car and a Tractor/Trailer,” confirmed North Brunswick Police Captain Brian Hoiberg, adding that there were two summonses issued to the driver of the passenger vehicle.
North Brunswick’s police, fire and EMS crews all responded to the scene, along with Middlesex County’s Hazardous Materials Team, and the New Jersey State Department of Transportation.
According to the New Brunswick Water Director, it was the efforts of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection that appeared to be successful in stopping the fuel from making its way into the water supply.
But the city continues to monitor and test for contamination.
The situation is reminiscent of the 2016 oil spill caused by the botched demolition of a Milltown factory that also threatened the nearby Westons Mills water supply.
New Brunswick Water Utility provides drinking water to the communities of New Brunswick and Milltown, as well as portions of Frankin Township.
The city government posted a vague statement on social media about the incident late in the day on Friday, April 24, then failed to answer the questions that it sparked.
“We are actively monitoring the local waterways following this morning’s diesel spill,” reads the post. “Any additional steps needed to protect the City’s water supply will be taken.”
The Mayor’s Office still has not respond to multiple inquiries, and eight-term Mayor Jim Cahill did not address the incident in his coronavirus-related AM radio broadcasts on April 24 and 27.
As we reported, it’s become harder than ever before to get answers out of the administration since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the weekend, a man who answered the emergency phone line at the Water Utility said he couldn’t provide any information about the situation.
“Unfortunately, sir, it’s the weekend. If you can call on Monday, they’ll be able to give you the full rundown,” he told New Brunswick Today.
Finally, after another round of calls and emails to City Hall and the Water Director, New Brunswick Today finally got some answers late on Monday, April 27.
“On Friday, we switched sources out of an abundance of caution,” confirmed Water Director Walus, stating that the utility had tested the Westons Mill “intake” for volatile organic compounds and had not yet discovered any contamination.
“It wasn’t a particularly big spill,” said Walus, noting that an “absorbent boom” deployed by NJDEP seemed to have captured the fuel.
“It really was a non-issue.”
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.