Widespread oversight in thousands of NYC water tanks poses health risks, according to report

Posted On Tue, May 29, 2018 By

Posted On Tue, May 29, 2018 By In maps, Policy

Photo via Ted McGrath on Flickr

Thousands of wooden water tanks in New York City have not been properly inspected and cleaned for years, according to an investigation by City & State. And while the water towers have been an iconic part of the city skyline for over a century, the structures make it easy for pathogens and even dead animals to congregate and infiltrate the city’s drinking water. According to the report, most building owners do not inspect and clean water tanks on a regular basis, despite newly updated health codes that require annual filings. City & State mapped more than 13,000 water tank inspection reports from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), letting the public know for the first time if and when a building’s tank has been inspected and whether bacteria was found. Last year, just over 3,520 buildings with water tanks filed proof of inspection.

The interactive map covers inspection reports from 2015, 2016 and 2017. Building owners and water tank cleaning companies are required to submit reports to the city each year. If they do not file a report, the city marks the structure as not being checked for defects. Last year, only 34 percent of buildings with water tanks, or about 3,527 buildings, provided proof of a tank inspection.

On the map, red buildings indicate no inspections were filed that year. The report also details the type of sanitary condition the tank is currently in, including if there’s biological growth, insects, debris, rodent or bird activity. The results of testing for bacteria in the building’s water, like Coliform and E.coli, is also revealed, with positive results colored red and negative results colored white.

Jonathan Lewin, a water tank cleaner with American Pipe and Tank, told City & State, that he has found dead pigeons, drowned squirrels (or a “squirrel martini” as he described it), and even a man living in the crawl space of a tank. Lewin told the newspaper that he’s found a pigeon in roughly 1 in 50 tanks cleaned.

The health department told City & State that the wooden tanks are risk-free. “New York City water is safe, and water tanks pose very little risk to the health of New Yorkers,” Chris Miller, a spokesperson for DOHMH said. “There is no evidence that the water from water tanks raises any public health concern, and there has never been a sickness or outbreak traced back to a water tank.”

However, one scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency said using a wooden structure atop a building is “asking for a vulnerable situation.” The unnamed EPA source continued: “It’s a serious concern if you have a bird or a rodent basically disintegrating in your finished water.”

Find out if, and when, your building’s water tank has been inspected here.

[Via City & State]

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