The discovery of arsenic in the tap water of a Lower East side public housing development, first reported by THE CITY on Friday evening, has raised questions about how NYCHA handled the testing and triggered an investigation by the federal monitor overseeing the authority.
Two weeks ago, after reports of cloudy water from residents, NYCHA received results declaring the water drinkable.
NYCHA then decided for reasons not yet explained to retest the water, and on Thursday those results, from the private water management company LiquiTech Inc., detected arsenic, which the earlier test had not checked for. But NYCHA sat on those results for 24 hours, and there was no public acknowledgement or warning until City Hall confirmed the arsenic finding on late Friday—after THE CITY began asking about it.
On Saturday the federal monitor who has jurisdiction over NYCHA announced he would be looking into the circumstances surrounding the testing at Riis.
“We are concerned and the monitorship is investigating,” said Montieth Illingworth, a spokesman for the monitor, Bart Schwartz. The monitor was appointed after the Manhattan U.S. Attorney in 2016 documented that NYCHA management had for years covered up squalid conditions endured by so many of the city’s 400,000 public housing residents.
On Saturday, the city Housing Authority began advising the 2,600 tenants of Riis not to drink or cook (though they can still bathe) with the water coming out of their taps.
That came after NYCHA began trucking in cases of bottled water for drinking and cooking, with Mayor Eric Adams paying an emergency visit to the development after 10 p.m. to help distribute it. After midnight, the mayor’s office tweeted photos of him handing out water—but did not mention that arsenic-tainted tap water was the reason he’d been doing that.
‘We’re Not Getting No Information’
Tenants complained on Saturday that they had been kept in the dark about the testing prior to the mayor’s appearance. Many didn’t realize that Adams had been there until seeing news reports about his appearance the next day.
“We’re not getting no information until the mayor came here last night,” said tenant Shaquane Mitchell, 49, who’s lived in Riis for 18 years. “I’m really trying to find out what’s going on because they’re not telling us anything.”
Mitchell was furious that she only learned of the arsenic finding from the news. She said she had to inform her elderly neighbor about what was going on. On Saturday morning, she found a letter from NYCHA revealing the arsenic finding and advising tenants not to drink the water.
“All of this month we’ve been drinking this water. I don’t know anything about arsenic. I’m getting scared thinking I’m drinking this water,” she said. “I’ve been having stomach issues… I thought it was just my food or something with my diet. But we don’t know.”