TRENTON, New Jersey, February 13, 2013 (ENS) – Two top officials of the East Orange Water Commission have been charged with conspiring to close contaminated wells before monthly water tests so as to falsely report low levels of a regulated contaminant in drinking water supplied to customers, then opening the wells, allowing the chemical back into the water supply.
The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice obtained a state grand jury indictment Tuesday charging Harry Mansmann, 58, of Lawrenceville, the Commission’s executive director, and William Mowell, 51, of Wyckoff, the assistant executive director and engineer, with conspiracy.
Mansmann and Mowell allegedly conspired to falsify mandatory testing of the EOWC’s water supply to hide elevated levels of the contaminant tetrachlorethene, or PERC, an industrial solvent used for dry cleaning, which is classified as a probable carcinogen.
The two men were also charged with multiple counts of official misconduct, pattern of official misconduct, unlawful release of a toxic pollutant, multiple counts of violating the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act, violating the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act, and tampering with public records in November 2010, March 2011, and April 2011.
“It is absolutely unconscionable that the two top directors responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of drinking water supplied to tens of thousands of residents in East Orange and South Orange would deliberately manipulate sampling to hide the fact that the water supply contained elevated levels of a contaminant, as is alleged in this indictment,” said state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. “These defendants rightfully face serious criminal charges.”
The indictment stems from an investigation by the Environmental Crimes Unit of the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, after a referral by the Compliance and Enforcement Program of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP.
“Working with the DEP, our investigators thoroughly chronicled the actions of these two officials who allegedly manipulated the water supply prior to sampling on multiple occasions, cherry picked the test results they reported to the DEP on another occasion, and pumped water from their most contaminated well into the Passaic River without a permit for nearly a month,” said Stephen Taylor, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Their alleged conduct is shocking.”
The East Orange Water Commission has encountered problems with elevated levels of PERC in several wells.
The DEP conducted independent tests of the East Orange water system, and samples showed PERC levels slightly above state standards but within federal safe drinking water parameters. The DEP is continuing to monitor the system.
The East Orange Water Commission, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010, supplies drinking water to East Orange, a city of about 64,000 people, and to South Orange, a village of about 16,000, both in Essex County.
The water is pumped from well fields in eastern Morris and western Essex counties through a pumping station in Millburn to two reservoirs, from which water is distributed to customers. The utility blends water from its various wells at its treatment plant before water is distributed to customers.
Mansmann and Mowell allegedly directed that the contaminated wells be turned off several days prior to taking samples for testing and then turned back on for pumping to the reservoir after sampling.
In this manner, they allegedly falsified test results to comply with the DEP requirement that the running annual average level of PERC under normal operating conditions not exceed 1 microgram per liter or part per billion.
The indictment charges Mansmann and Mowell with directing that the well with the most PERC contamination – 25 times the permitted level under the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act and nearly twice the level permitted for discharges in remediation projects under the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act – be pumped to a pipe that discharged onto the bank of the Passaic River in Florham Park from March 24 through April 20, 2011.
They allegedly did that in an effort to flush the contaminant out of the well. That is the basis for the charges of unlawful release of a toxic pollutant and violation of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act.
If convicted on all counts, the two men face five to 10 years in state prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines.