- IN THE TOWNS
- ARTS / LEISURE
Both men accused of falsifying results and reporting lower levels of a regulated contaminant
By: Chris Sykes - Staff Writer
EAST ORANGE — Last week, state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced the indictments of the head of the East Orange Water Commission and one of his top deputies.
On Wednesday, Feb. 13, Chiesa announced that Harry L. Mansmann, 58, of Lawrenceville, the executive director of the East Orange Water Commission, and William Mowell, 51, of Wyckoff, the assistant executive director and engineer for the East Orange Water Commission, had been indicted for allegedly conspiring to manipulate the agency’s water supply by shutting down contaminated wells prior to monthly water tests so as to falsify results and report lower levels of a regulated contaminant in the drinking water supplied 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 — results up to 1.49 ug/L are rounded down to 1,” Chiesa said.
Tetrachloroethylene, also known under the systematic name tetrachloroethene, or perchloroethylene — “perc” or “PERC” — and many other names, is a chlorocarbon. It is a colorless liquid widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics, hence it is sometimes called “dry-cleaning fluid.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified tetrachloroethene as a Group 2A carcinogen, which means that it is probably carcinogenic to humans. Tetrachloroethene is a common soil contaminant. Recent research has focused on the in place remediation of soil and ground water pollution by tetrachloroethylene.
“The indictment charges the defendants with specific instances of false sampling and falsifying the April 2011 compliance sample by taking multiple samples and submitting the sample containing the lowest level of PERC as the compliance sample for April 2011 in violation of DEP requirements,” said Chiesa. “The indictment further charges that Mansmann and Mowell directed that the well with the most PERC contamination be pumped to a pipe that discharged directly onto the bank of the Passaic River in Florham Park from March 24 through April 20, 2011.”
Chiesa said Mansmann and Mowell allegedly did that in an effort to flush the contaminant out of the well. He said this is the alleged basis for the charges of unlawful release of a toxic pollutant and violation of the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act.
In addition, Chiesa said the indictment alleges that, when the Department of Environmental Protection required the East Orange Water Commission to issue a public notice about non-compliant PERC levels in the system, the defendants issued a notice in July 2011 falsely stating that the East Orange Water Commission had reduced pumping from certain wells on an ongoing basis. And, Chiesa said, as a result, tests during the first half of 2011 revealed levels under the Department of Environmental Protection limit.
“It is alleged that, in fact, they only reduced pumping from contaminated wells temporarily for sampling, and PERC levels had exceeded the limit,” Chiesa said on Wednesday, Feb. 13. He also said that, even though Mansmann and Mowell have been indicted, the allegations against them are “merely charges” that have yet to be substantiated in court.
But according to mayoral candidate Kevin Taylor and others in the city, Chiesa’s news on Feb. 13 wasn’t the first time the leadership of the Water Department has found themselves in hot water with the law.
“I’ve been dealing with this for some time,” Taylor said on Tuesday, Feb. 19. “Four years ago, I was called by the drivers in the Water Commission trucks that were complaining about the corruption and things that were going on in the water department. They told me that the top officials were ordering them to dump human waste, including feces, etc., into the Midland Avenue location in East Orange. They were taking it out of the Short Hills property and dumping it in the East Orange reservoir.
“I told the drivers, the next time it happens, to call me, because we needed proof and we would bring the necessary parties down there to investigate. They subsequently called me and I got down there and I had a camera and we called the EPA, the EOPD, the FD, the ECPO, and Channel 9, as well another local newspaper, and they all came down there and we caught them in the act.”
Unfortunately, Taylor said, even though the East Orange Water Commission officials had been caught in the act of committing illegal dumping, that was not enough to get them indicted four years ago. He said he blamed that on a failure of leadership at many levels of local government, up to and including Mayor Robert Bowser.
“After that, it was covered up,” Taylor said. “We tried to push the issue, but no one did anything about it. We contacted the mayor’s office, as well as the other agencies and city departments that were there on the scene when we caught them in the act of illegally dumping, but nothing was ever done.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Bowser administration issued a written statement regarding the East Orange Water Commission indictments last week. The statement was from the commission and not the mayor himself.
“Last Tuesday, Feb. 12, the East Orange Water Commission suspended its executive director and assistant executive director, due to charges which have been made against them,” according to the statement that was forwarded to the Record-Transcript by Regina Perry, the city’s public information officer. “The EOWC has in no way prejudged these charges. As stated by the Attorney General’s Office, the indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
The statement went on to say that the East Orange Water Commission “wants to assure the general public, our consumers, that there is no need for alarm because our water system is safe.”
“The NJ DEP has been continually monitored the system, and has stated that the water is within safe drinking parameters,” the statement said. “The EOWC is cooperating fully with the state’s investigation, has made and will implement contingency plans, and good quality water and services will continue without interruption.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Attorney General’s indictment can go online to ww.njpublicsafety.com where it is posted along with a copy of Chiesa’s press release on the matter.