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.