On Wednesday, the Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director of East Orange Water Commission were indicted by the Attorney General on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct, a pattern of official misconduct, unlawful release of a toxic pollutant, tampering with public records or information and violating the state drinking water and pollution laws. Please read my letter to the community regarding water safety, the evolution of these events and what we're doing moving forward below:
You have undoubtedly heard or read of the indictment of high ranking officials at the East Orange Water Commission (“EOWC”), the provider of drinking water to South Orange. The news accounts of this event have referenced the presence of tetrachloroethene, a volatile organic compound (VOC), in the Village’s drinking water. It is the purpose of this letter to address and alleviate any concerns concerning the safety of our water, to advise you how these events evolved and what the Village has been doing and will continue to do to ensure the continued safety of our drinking water.
Before I continue I must note: Water in South Orange is perfectly safe to drink. This is confirmed by independent testing the Village has conducted as well as the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
With respect to the safety of our drinking water, you should know that the Trustees have not relied upon the test results published by EOWC. Ever since the Trustees first suspected a VOC problem, more than two years ago, the Village has conducted its own independent periodic testing, both concurrently with those of EOWC and at random other times. In addition, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has also engaged in its own independent testing. The Village, through our legal counsel, has continually consulted with DEP to share information and to confirm that VOC limits did not exceed the levels permitted by DEP, and you can view all of the testing results on our website at http://southorange.org.
It’s also important to know that the standards established by DEP in New Jersey are among most stringent in the nation. For example, in neighboring New York state, and by federal EPA standards, safe drinking water is acceptable with a VOC concentration five times that permitted in New Jersey. From the DEP regarding the VOC levels that were (but are no longer) present in our water, “(The levels are) not high enough to shut anything down or to cause a safety issue for folks, but enough to say, ‘Hey wait, you’re over our standard, you need to figure out what’s causing it and you need to take some action.’” The DEP confirmed that the VOC levels which were in violation were within federal safe drinking water standards. Both the Village and DEP will continue to monitor the water to assure continued safety, and if any safety concern arises, residents will be contacted immediately through reverse 911 phone calls and emergency notifications.
All residents should understand that the indictment of Mr. Mansmann and Mr. Mowell did not come as a surprise to the Village. Village Counsel was fully engaged with DEP, knew that a criminal investigation was in process and in fact provided critical evidence which led to the indictments. Our counsel continuously informed the Trustees of these events, but because of the sensitive nature of the information, on-going litigation between the Village and EOWC, and criminal investigations by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, such information could not be made public.
The release of the indictments is not an end to this matter, but rather brings us closer, in a big way, to a final resolution. As we have advised the public, nearly two years ago litigation was commenced against the EOWC to force it to install equipment on its wells to remove VOCs. That litigation continues, and even before the announcement of indictments, the Village was able to force the EOWC to take steps to secure and install such equipment. The EOWC has now issued requests for proposals and shortly expects to entertain bids to provide both short- and long-term solutions to the VOC problem. Village Counsel is working with what is called a Special Master, an oversight individual appointed by the Court, that has been actively engaged in assuring that this process is being pursued appropriately.
I hope that this information addresses your concerns both with regard to water safety and progress made to permanently resolve this issue. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office with any questions at 973 378 7715x2 or by email at [email protected].
Very truly yours,
And, if you're interested in some of the other latest happenings around town, you can: