Thursday, February 21, 2013

Water officials accused of hiding contamination in New Jersey

By: Nathan Lamb

Two New Jersey water officials are facing criminal charges, accused of hiding drinking supply contaminants from regulators, according to this story from the Times of Trenton newspaper.

The officials allegedly shut down contaminated wells before testing to conceal elevated levels of the dry cleaning solvent tetrachlorethyene,a potential carcinogen that causes a variety of short- and long-term health problems.

East Orange Water Commission executive director Harry Mansmann was indicted on Feb. 13 on multiple counts of violating the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act and Pollution Control Act, along with charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, unlawful release of a toxic pollutant and tampering with public information. Also facing those charges is commission assistant executive director William Mowell.

An indictment released by the state attorney general alleges the officials shut down the contaminated wells before testing, once in 2010 and twice in 2011.

While those tests indicated customers were receiving acceptable drinking water, independent sampling found elevated levels of tetrachlorethyene, which is also known as perchloroethylene or perc. Often used for dry cleaning or metal degreasing, perc is a persistent solvent—improperly disposed of, it often migrates through soil and into groundwater.

The attorney general confirmed that concentrations of perc that exceed state and federal drinking standards were found in “several” wells throughout the system that supplies water for the northeastern New Jersey cities of East Orange and South Orange.

The incident was referred to authorities by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is now monitoring water provided by the system.


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