News Feature | August 21, 2014

Top Water Official May Land In Jail For Contamination Cover-Up

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A coverup in New Jersey left ratepayers without knowledge that their water contained elevated levels of tetrachloroethene. 

The office of New Jersey's acting attorney general recently announced "that a former top official of the East Orange Water Commission (EOWC) pleaded guilty to conspiring to manipulate testing of the agency’s water supply to falsify results and report lower levels of a regulated contaminant in the drinking water supplied to customers." 

The official, William Mowell of Wyckoff, previously served as assistant executive director and engineer for the EOWC.

Mowell pleaded guilty to a charge "that he conspired to engage in a pattern of official misconduct, tamper with public records, and violate both the New Jersey Safe Drinking Water Act and the New Jersey Water Pollution Control Act. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Mowell be sentenced to three years in state prison." Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 7. 

"Mowell admitted that he took water samples for testing after the contaminated wells had been turned off for several days. He admitted that he knew that meant that the test results would not accurately reflect the water supply," the Daily Record reported

Locals may not have been put at risk. 

"Exposure to the chemical, used for dry cleaning and other purposes, over a prolonged period of time is a potential cancer risk, according to the federal health department. But state Department of Environmental Protection officials said their own testing showed residents were not at risk and the water was safe," the Star-Ledger reported

Elie Honig, director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, said Mowell should have been acting on the public's behalf. 

"Mowell should have used his expertise to act as an environmental watchdog, protecting the water supply and alerting the DEP and the public of problems," Honig said, per the Star-Ledger. "However, he chose to use his knowledge and skills to cover up a significant contamination issue."

Image credit: "Alcatraz Jails," allistair © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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