Through Suez, Jersey City MUA failed to meet public notification requirements after positive E. coli test

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A letter to Jersey City Municipal Utilities Authority customers, dated February 26th, says that the authority (whose contract is operated by SUEZ Water) failed to meet public notification requirements after a positive E. coli test occurred in August.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“At 8:00 p.m., on August 13, 2020, our certified laboratory notified our water system that a sample collected on August 12, 2020 confirmed the presence of E. coli in our water system’s drinking water,” the letter begins.

“When this occurs, we are required to conduct a Tier 1 public notification to inform customers of the event and how we plan to correct deficiencies that potentially caused the contamination.”

The letter continues that while a Tier 1 public notification was issued on August 14, 2020, the state Department of Environmental Protection identified three deficiencies with this notice.

For one, the initial public notification had an end date and time for the boil water advisory – pieces of information that aren’t supposed to be included.

Second, the notice was not issued in Spanish, while finally, the notice was not distributed immediately beyond bill paying customers who received a notice within 24 hours.

For these reasons, the MUA was required to issue a Tier 2 public notification to acknowledge that NJ DEP guidelines will be followed in the future, though this led to second public notification violation when the Tier 2 notice did not go out within 30 days of the first violation.

“This public notice is to serve as notification of (1) Jersey City’s MUA contract, operated by Suez, failure to conduct appropriate Tier 1 public notification and (2) Jersey City MUA’s contract, operated by Suez, failure to conduct Tier 2 public notification.”

Furthermore, the letter indicated the boil water advisory was officially lifted at 5:53 p.m. on August 15, 2020.

They also say they’ve communicated with the NJ DEP to better understand the technical deficiencies in this scenario and have since revised their Emergency Response Plan.

This summer, Jersey City residents and officials alike expressed outrage after Suez waited three days from a positive E. coli on August 11th to issue a boil water advisory, as HCV first reported.

At the time, Jersey City Ward E Councilman James Solomon called for the city council to investigate the matter further and the governing body ultimately ended taking Suez officials to task during a September meeting.

Upon being informed of Suez’s letter, Solomon said another council hearing that this time includes members of the administration.

“This clear finding of failure confirms what the public knew: Jersey City, Suez, and the MUA failed to communicate effectively about a threat to the public’s health,” he said.

“The City Council must immediately request that Suez and the Fulop Administration appear before us to explain the misleading information presented to us and, more importantly, to the public.”

However, city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said only Suez was at fault.

“As was said from the beginning, we are extremely disappointed in Suez’s failure to properly notify our residents when E coli was identified during routine water testing,” she explained.

“As the contract operator for the MUA, Suez failed the City and the community, and we have put them on notice that this is unacceptable and corrective actions must be taken to prevent these issues from ever happening again.”

The Record reported the following month that emails revealed that city officials appeared to wait about 12 hours after being informed of the positive E. coli test results before issuing a boil water advisory.