Despite mishap, water still ‘safe to drink’: DEP


Belleville residents may have been wondering about a certain notice “about your drinking water” posted on the township website on Jan. 8.

It advised that, “Our water system violated drinking water requirements over the past year,” but sought to ease fears by adding “these were not emergencies.”

And, the notice said, “You may continue to drink the water.”

So what went wrong? According to the posting, “During the third quarter 2015, we exceeded the Operational Evaluation Level for trihalomethanes and failed to conduct an operational evaluation and submit a written report by Dec. 4, 2015, as required.”

Since then, the notice said, “The Water Department completed an operational evaluation and submitted a written report to the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection on Dec. 23, 2015.”

The Observer called DEP to request a copy of the Belleville Water Department report but was denied it. DEP spokeswoman Caryn Shinske said: “The report sent to the DEP is currently under review so it’s not immediately available.”

However, Shinske did say that, “The water in Belleville is safe to drink. This was not a bacteria issue.”

Elaborating, spokesman Bob Considine said that DEP focuses on “two classes of compounds … when dealing with byproducts of water system that use disinfectants like chlorine.” One is known as haloacetic acids and the other, trihalmoethanes, he said.

The latter, Considine said, “is a chemical that occurs when a disinfectant reacts with naturally occurring organic or inorganic matter in water. It’s an unintended consequence that can occur, even with filtering.

“EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) requires that a public water system monitor its drinking water for the presence of these disinfection byproducts and to notify the public when they exceed the maximum contaminant level, which is averaged annually over four samples. If the level approaches an MCL violation, which was the case here, the public water system must conduct an operational evaluation and submit a written report to DEP.”

Asked how the issue might be dealt with, Shinske said: “In such instances, a system-wide assessment is done and remedies are considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Thomas Herits, the township’s consulting engineer, could not be reached by press time.

– Ron Leir

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