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Branchburg Township Employee Falsifies Sludge Disposal Monitoring Reports
Trenton, NJ— New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell announced a settlement agreement with Branchburg Township, Somerset County, that addresses a number of serious water pollution violations, including their unlawful disposal of sludge and their submittal of falsified discharge monitoring reports. Branchburg Township must pay the state $201,600 as part of the settlement agreement.
“We are pleased Branchburg Township acted quickly to voluntarily disclose their environmental violations and to correct the problems occurring at their sewage treatment plants,” said Commissioner Campbell. “While the penalties issued reflect the seriousness of the violations and their negative impact on the state’s ability to protect water quality, they also take into consideration Branchburg Township’s cooperation and appropriate response.”
Upon hiring a new consultant to oversee the operation of their Fox Hollow and Neshanic Sewage Treatment Plants, Branchburg Township discovered that their former operator and employee, Joseph Stracuzzi, had directed the illegal disposal of sludge from the sewage treatment plants and falsified discharge monitoring reports submitted to the DEP.
On at least 65 instances between February 1997 and April 2002, sludge generated from their sewage treatment plants was discharged into a portion of their wastewater collection system that flows into the Somerset Raritan Valley Sewage Authority system. Under state laws, sludge must be disposed of at a disposal facility approved by the DEP.
Neither the department nor the Somerset Raritan Valley Sewage Authority were notified or approved of Branchburg’s sludge disposal activities.
In addition, for at least 10 years prior to May 2002, Mr. Stracuzzi consistently submitted required discharge monitoring reports for Branchburg Township’s Neshanic Sewage Treatment Plant that indicated that all effluent sampling required by their DEP permit was properly conducted. However, after hiring the new consultant to oversee the operation of the sewer utility, Branchburg Township learned that random, grab samples instead of composite samples were consistently taken for solids and oxygen demand. As a result, the discharge monitoring reports contained false sample information that the DEP relied upon to make compliance determinations.
Also, during May 2001 and December 2001, the DEP cited the Neshanic Sewage Treatment Plant for serious effluent violations for fecal coliform. In January 2002, Fox Hollow also received a violation for a serious effluent violation of fecal coliform.
In an attempt to mitigate the financial impact of the $201,600 issued to Branchburg Township’s sewer utility, the DEP granted the township a 10-year payment schedule. The first payment of $20,160 is due March 1, 2004. In assessing the penalty amount, the DEP took into consideration that the township self disclosed its violations upon discovery.
In a separate settlement agreement with Mr. Stracuzzi, the former operator agreed to pay the state a $2,000 fine for his unlawful activities and accept the permanent revocation of his wastewater operator licenses. The DEP operates a water and wastewater license certification program to ensure that only properly trained and experienced individuals operate water and wastewater facilities in New Jersey.
“Licensed individuals who operate New Jersey’s water and wastewater facilities have an obligation to serve the public in a professional and lawful manner,” Campbell added. “This enforcement case clearly demonstrates that any operator who fails to meet these obligations will be held individually responsible and will be forced to seek another profession.”
Failure to properly monitor wastewater discharge undermines the integrity of the department’s New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit program, which is based in large part on self-monitoring and reporting by permittees.
Branchburg Township is currently in compliance with its DEP permit requirements.