EAST ORANGE WATER COMMISSION FINED $402,000 FOR VIOLATING STATE
WATER QUALITY REGULATIONS
Independent State Sampling Shows Water Quality is Safe for Consumption
(13/P17) TRENTON – The Department of Environmental Protection has issued two Administrative Orders that include penalties of $402,000 against the East Orange Water Commission (EOWC), alleging the water purveyor in 2010, 2011 and 2012 manipulated water samples and test results so that required reports sent to the state minimized the levels of contaminants in the water supply, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.
The Administrative Orders allege that the EOWC violated numerous state regulations regarding record keeping, accurate reporting of required water sampling, public notification of water quality violations, water quality remediation, and access by state inspectors to water system records and documents. EOWC also is alleged to have discharged water with elevated levels of a contaminant into the Passaic River.
“We have a high standard of accountability in this state when it comes to the safety and reliability of drinking water,’’ said Commissioner Martin. “It is imperative that water providers maintain and provide to us accurate records of water system operations. Any deviation from those standards is a violation of the public trust.
“Thankfully, independent tests by the DEP find the water quality for residents of East Orange and South Orange to be safe. We will continue to closely monitor this water supply.’’
A state grand jury this month indicted East Orange Water Commission Executive Director Harry L. Mansmann, 58, of Lawrenceville, and the system’s licensed operator and Assistant Executive Director William Mowell, 51, of Wyckoff for allegedly conspiring to manipulate the agency’s water supply by shutting down contaminated wells prior to monthly water tests to falsify test results and report lower levels of a regulated contaminant in the drinking water supplied to customers.
Mansmann and Mowell were charged with conspiracy, 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.
The indictment stems from an investigation by the Environmental Crimes Unit of the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau, which resulted from a referral by the DEP’s Compliance & Enforcement Program. Mansmann and Mowell allegedly conspired to falsify mandatory testing of the EOWC’s water supply to hide elevated levels of the contaminant tetrachloroethylene (PERC), an industrial solvent used for dry cleaning and other purposes.
Prior to the indictment, the DEP had issued administrative orders to the EOWC for violating terms of water allocation permits and inhibiting access of DEP inspectors to commission documents, which prompted an order suspending Mowell’s license to operate a potable water system. That license suspension was pending an administrative hearing at the time of the indictment.
The EOWC supplies water to about 75,000 residents in East Orange and 17,000 customers in South Orange from 18 wells located in Millburn, Livingston and Florham Park. 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 in several wells with elevated levels of PERC, which is commonly found in groundwater in urban areas.
The DEP’s Administrative Orders allege that water with an elevated content of PERC was pumped from a Florham Park well into the Passaic River, from March 24 to April 11, 2011.
DEP also alleges that EOWC:
- Failed to provide required timely notification of violations to customers, and that its late notification “gave the appearance’’ the system was complying with state rules.
- Failed to submit required remedial measures reports detailing actions to be taken to address the PERC violations.
- Submitted select water quality samples to the DEP that were supposed to be representative of water from its entire system but were taken when wells containing higher levels of PERC were not operating.
- Falsified records, misrepresenting the chain of custody and PERC sample results.
- Denied DEP inspectors legally required access to review EOWC’s pumping records.
- Failed to make required emergency notifications to the DEP during Hurricane Irene and a major 2011 snowstorm of system failures that jeopardized the integrity of the water supply.
The DEP has done independent testing of the East Orange water system. The results of the most recent samples in February show PERC levels below state acceptable standards of one part per billion, and far lower than the federal standards of five parts per billion. The DEP is continuing to monitor the water system.
For a copy of the DEP’s Administrative orders, please visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/enforcement/docs/eo_water_commission.pdf
For information on the recent indictments, please visit: http://www.nj.gov/oag/newsreleases13/pr20130213b.html