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Wyckoff Man Charged with Hiding High Levels of Carcinogen in Drinking Water

William Mowell — a former Ridgewood Water engineer — and another top official with the East Orange Water Commission are charged with manipulating test results to hide PERC levels.

Two top officials of the East Orange Water Commission have been charged with manipulating water test results, according to State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa.

Harry L. Mansmann, 58, of Lawrenceville, executive director of the EOWC, and William Mowell, 51, of Wyckoff, the assistant executive director and engineer for the EOWC, have been charged with allegedly conspiring to manipulate the agency’s water supply by shutting down contaminated wells prior to monthly water tests in order to falsify results. 

The pair are accused of reporting lower levels of the contaminant tetrachlorethene, an industrial solvent also known as PERC, used for dry cleaning.

PERC is classified as a probable carcinogen.

Mowell worked as the chief engineer at Ridgewood Water until he was laid off in July of 2010, according to employment records.

Ridgewood Water serves Wyckoff, Midland Park, Glen Rock and Ridgewood.

He could not have manipulated the water supply in Ridgewood for scheduled monthly tests when he worked in Ridgewood, according to Ridgewood Water's director.

"He was not the keeper of the castle where our tests were resolved," Moritz said. "We have a chief operator, Steve Florence, who takes care of that for us. We don't believe in [manipulating the water supply and falsifying test results]."

As recently as January 15, the EOWC released water test results. Those results showed, according to a Village release, "levels high enough to warrant diligent monitoring." The previous set of results was made public in November. 

“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 Chiesa. “These defendants rightfully face serious criminal charges.”

Investigators said the pair "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,” according to Director Stephen J. Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice. 

Following the alleged criminal conduct, 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 EOWC supplies drinking water to East Orange and also has a contract to supply drinking water to South Orange.  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. The EOWC has encountered problems with elevated levels of PERC in several wells.

The Village of South Orange has previously filed suit against the EOWC. At that time, residents were cautioned by state officials that prolonged bathing was not recommended. The litigation is ongoing.

The men were charged with conspiracy, 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 or information.

If convicted, Mowell and Mansmann could face more than a decade of prison time and thousands in fines.

James Kleimann contributed reporting.

Have a question or news tip for Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Susan February 14, 2013 at 02:04 AM
yet another fine upstanding resident putting Wyckoff on the news map!
Chris February 14, 2013 at 08:39 PM
No wonder people buy so much bottled water. The two of them should be sentanced to spend a couple of years cleaning the banks of the Passaic River. More productive than sitting in prison watching TV and a much better lesson in ecology.

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