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NYC DOI report confirms no arsenic in Jacob Riis Houses water

This situation caused significant anxiety among residents and incurred substantial costs for the city, largely due to a lack of knowledgeable leadership on the ground.

Edric Robinson

May 17, 2024, 10:57 PM

Updated 37 days ago

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A recent report from the NYC Department of Investigation confirmed that no arsenic was detected in the water at the Jacob Riis Houses in 2022. This situation caused significant anxiety among residents and incurred substantial costs for the city, largely due to a lack of knowledgeable leadership on the ground.
"The superintendent didn't have the right training and didn't have the right background," said Jocelyn Strauber, commissioner of the NYC Department of Investigation.
The department’s investigation seemed to reveal two key points about how the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) handled water concerns at Jacob Riis Houses in 2022: 1. There was no arsenic in the water as initially cited by a vendor, and 2. NYCHA’s missteps, particularly those by new superintendents, exacerbated the problem.
"They did not recognize as quickly as they should have the possible causes of the cloudy water, which caused this issue not only to persist but to be escalated within NYCHA as a potential contaminant when the true cause was a nonfunctioning pump," Strauber explained.
The events began between June and July of 2022 with over 200 complaints from tenants. A false positive arsenic report in August by LiquiTech caused significant concerns. Residents were advised not to drink or cook with the water.
NYCHA set up water stations and distributed over 380,000 bottles of water. They retested around 140 sites, in total costing $482,506.45. Even after retesting and the retraction of the false positive in September, concerns persisted. Mayor Eric Adams and the Health Commissioner tried to reassure tenants by drinking the water themselves. The report concludes that all of this could have been avoided.
"Our recommendation going forward is that when NYCHA needs a contractor for any water-related work, they work with a contractor who has been contracted for that purpose," said Strauber.
Strauber noted that there was no protocol for water testing of a contaminant when a concern arises. The report lists 23 new recommendations.
"We made a number of recommendations intended to address those missteps and ensure that there are policies and procedures in place to deal with unexpected concerns about water contamination should they arise in the future," Strauber added.
In a statement, a spokesperson for NYCHA said, “The DOI’s report reaffirms that there is no — and never was any — arsenic in the water at Riis Houses and demonstrates that NYCHA acted in good faith to respond quickly to what we now know was a laboratory error. NYCHA has taken many steps, including the establishment of the Office of Water Quality, to strengthen and improve its internal processes.”
"When you have situations like this where mistakes can be made, those mistakes can cause significant anxiety, mistrust, and be costly for the city. The hope is very much that tenants will not have to experience this problem again," Strauber concluded.
NYCHA’s new Office of Water Quality and additional training programs are now in place across all developments. Additionally, the state has amended its Public Housing Law to require prompt resident notification and proper contractor compliance with regulations.


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