Investigation underway after arsenic is found in water at East Village public housing complex

September 6, 2022

Image courtesy of edenpictures on Flickr

Residents of the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village may have been exposed to water with dangerous levels of arsenic for more than a week without being notified by the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA) until last Friday, as first reported by the non-profit news site, The City. While recent tests indicate there are no longer high levels of arsenic in the water, the public housing complex’s roughly 2,600 residents still lack clean water. The federal monitor overseeing NYCHA opened an investigation this past weekend into the agency’s actions surrounding the test results.

Image courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office on Flickr

According to The City, traces of arsenic were found in the housing complex’s water supply two weeks ago according to NYCHA spokespeople. Despite being notified of the positive test results, top agency officials only alerted residents of the homes late Friday, advising them to refrain from drinking, cooking, and cleaning with the tap water.

The City tried to contact the mayor’s office Friday but received no response. Hours later, Mayor Eric Adams showed up at the public housing complex to hand out bottled water but refused press questions.

Later that night, the news site received a statement from the City Hall, stating:

“Preliminary results received today from retesting showed arsenic levels higher than the federal standard for drinking water, and while there is no evidence linking it to the cloudy water, the city has taken immediate action, including providing support and drinking water to every household at Riis while we conduct additional water testing.”

The latest tests show that there is no arsenic in the water supply, but NYCHA will continue to analyze over 100 new samples. NYC Mayor Press Secretary Fabien Levy tweeted: “Since Saturday, NYC DEP and NYCHA have conducted additional, more precise testing at both the source and where water is delivered to Riis Houses apartments, and everything previously thought to be positive for arsenic has, so far, now tested negative.”

On Saturday, Federal Monitor of the NYCHA Bart Schwartz opened an investigation into the housing agency’s actions before they received the positive test samples, as The City reported. Schwartz was appointed as a monitor in 2016 after an investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney revealed that NYCHA had been covering up unhealthy living conditions for years, including lead paint, toxic mold, and vermin infestations throughout the city’s public housing developments.

On Sunday, Schwartz ordered the housing agency’s management to preserve all documentation relating to the discovery of arsenic in the Jacob Riis House’s water. The documents could reveal just exactly how NYCHA handled the water testing at the Jacob Riis Houses leading up to last week.

As of Tuesday, the building’s residents are still advised to not use the tap water. To supplement the residents of the Jacob Riis Houses with clean water, the Department of Environmental Protection has set up a dozen water faucets on Avenue D and another tap attached to a fire hydrant, according to NY1.

NYCHA first began testing the water supply in the Jacob Riis Houses in early August after receiving complaints from tenants about “cloudy” water, the New York Times reported.

There are a variety of options for New Yorkers to ensure their tap water is safe for use. Those who are interested can order free water test kits online, which include two bottles and pre-paid mailing label for their return to a laboratory for analysis.

Another option includes purchasing a professionally-certified filter for your sink or pitcher to reduce the quantity of harmful materials like lead in your water. Here is a list of the best and worst water filters, as ranked by Consumer Reports.


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