Outrage in Jersey City after Suez waits 3 days from 1st E. coli test to issue boil water advisory

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Jersey City residents and officials are expressing outrage after Suez Water revealed that a test indicated E. coli was present in their distribution system back on August 11th – three days prior to their water boil advisory being issued yesterday.

Photo via springwellwater.com.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Around 10:30 a.m. Friday, the City of Jersey City tweeted that a boil water advisory was in effect through 5 p.m. today “out of an abundance of caution.”

Mayor Steven Fulop added that “an irregularity” was found near Christ Hospital yesterday.

“We do regular testing, there was an irregularity isolated near Christ Hospital yesterday. It subsequently tested ok, we then test upstream/downstream which we’ve been doing – Until all test results come back OK, we’re advised to implement a boil advisory,” he said.

While this prompted some frustration, few people seemed particularly bothered until Suez tweeted at 6:19 p.m. that a positive E. coli test in the Jersey City water system had occurred, with a link to a pdf file showing the initial test was on Tuesday.

“On August 11, 2020, we collected a sample from the distribution system. The sample tested positive for E. coli. Additional samples were collected on August 12, 2020 that confirmed the presence of E. coli on the evening of August 13, 2020,” the notification reads.

“These bacteria can make you sick and are especially a concern for people with weakened immune systems. Bacterial contamination can occur when increased run-off enters the drinking water source (for example, following heavy rains). It can also happen due to a break in the distribution system (pipes) or a failure in the water treatment process.”

This also prompted a sharp response from Ward E Councilman James Solomon, who is asking for Suez administrators to testify in front of the city council to explain their actions.

“The fact that Jersey City just learned of e-coli in our drinking water 72 hours after the initial test and 24 hours after a second positive test was confirmed is unacceptable. The City Council must investigate and call Suez Water Executives before us to testify,” the councilman said.

“We must understand why this delay in notification occurred and what plans they will put in place to ensure it never happens again.”

Suez spokeswoman Shari Gold reiterated the events that took place between August 11th and August 13th, but provided few new details other than that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was contacted.

“We immediately contacted the New Jersey DEP and informed them and began taking actions to resolve this issue. We have flushed the system and we have taken additional samples. We have confirmed that the levels of disinfection were appropriate,” she wrote in an email.

City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said the administration took action to notify the public as soon as they were notified of the boil water advisory, indicating that would support any hearing to find further information from Suez.

She was also critical of Solomon’s remarks for “politicizing” the situation before the it is under control.

“There is plenty of time for hearings once the water tests clear, and we would be supportive of that,” she said.

While Suez is taking the brunt of the criticism, not everyone is willing to give the administration a pass.

“I am so sick of living in a city where ‘leadership’ means ‘let’s keep this quiet because it might alarm people and look bad and OH NO the information is out and now it looks even worse.’ Again and again and again and again and again and again,” tweeted Megan Carolan.

Additionally, early this morning, Fulop posted on Facebook that the way Suez handled the situation “is absolutely unacceptable.”

“We are extremely concerned and extremely disappointed in Suez here. The time lag between when Suez first was aware of the issue with a test result and when they notified the city of a potential issue is absolutely unacceptable,” the mayor said on social media.

” … As a point of reference Suez does about 160 tests per month citywide (every month) and this is the first time I can recall any abnormal test in as long as I have been involved in government. We need to better understand what the issue is and why it occurred. Once the problem is resolved we will have ample time to question Suez and make sure that the process is corrected long term.”

Expectedly, angry reactions are continuing to pile up on Twitter as a result of what many are viewing as a total debacle.

“So in summary: you’ve known the water is tainted for three days and are just now telling us. Also, you have no plans to do anything to provide alternate water sources (e.g. water trucks) to customers. Do I have all that right?,” reads a tweet from Meghan Howard Noveck in response to Suez.