By Daniel Kelley
(Reuters) - A former top executive at a New Jersey water utility has been sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to falsifying tests to hide elevated levels of dry-cleaning solvent in drinking water used by two towns, according to authorities.
William Mowell, the former assistant executive director of the East Orange Water Commission, was sentenced for his role in the scheme which prosecutors said allowed the commission to avoid installing expensive water purification systems at the plant.
The utility also provided water to the town of South Orange.
“By hiding elevated levels of a potential carcinogen, Mowell put financial concerns ahead of the health of the tens of thousands of customers who drink the water supplied by this system,” Elie Honig, director of the state's Division of Criminal Justice, said in a statement on Friday.
Prosecutors say the utility pumped water from multiple wells, some of which contained levels of the solvent tetrachloroethene 25 times above legal limits.
Before conducting mandatory tests of the utility's water supply in 2011, the contaminated wells were temporarily shut off so that tests would show the utility's water met standards. They were turned back on after the tests were completed.
Tetrachloroethene is classified as a likely carcinogen, according to the state's Department of Environmental Protection. The state's limit is one part per billion, below the federal government's limit of five parts per billion.
Mowell was arrested in 2013, along with the utility's executive director, Harry Mansmann, who died after his arrest.
Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state's Department of Environmental Protection, said the utility has shut down the contaminated wells and has stepped up monitoring.
Tests of the system's water supply show the water is acceptable, Hajna said, and the town is planning to install a treatment plant to remove volatile organic compounds.
(Reporting by Daniel Kelley in Philadelphia)