Arsenic contamination on Lower East Side: Latest water test results at Riis Houses negative for toxin

Less than a week after test results detected arsenic in the water at the Lower East Side’s Jacob Riis Houses, the latest water samples taken from the location came back negative for the toxin, the Adams administration announced Tuesday.

Mayor’s office spokesperson Charles Lutvak said in a statement that “all original water delivery points that were previously though to test positive for arsenic have been retested and have now been found to be negative.” The city also tested 140 additional sites around the campus, and the results for 58 of the tests also came back poison-free.

Still, the Adams administration has yet to give the full all-clear to residents out of an abundance of caution.

“The health and safety of residents remains our top priorities, which is why we are continuing to ask Riis Houses residents not to drink or cook with the water in their buildings until all test results are returned,” Lutvak said. “We want to fully analyze all test results before any recommendations are made. In the meantime, we are continuing to provide clean water for anyone who needs it.”

More than 2,700 New Yorkers live at the Jacob Riis Houses, a public housing complex overseen by NYCHA. A report from news site The City released Friday night revealed that tests of water on the site had come back positive for high amounts of arsenic, prompting city health officials to order residents to stop drinking or cooking with the water.

Mayor Eric Adams visited with Riis Houses residents Friday night as city officials provided residents with bottled water, and worked to investigate how the contamination occurred. 

According to The City news site, NYCHA had received the test results on Thursday, Sept. 1, but only disclosed them after a press inquiry. 

Ironically, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams had visited the Riis Houses on Friday afternoon to announce his office’s report on the state of NYCHA, condemning the agency for mismanagement at its buildings.

Williams, in returning to the Riis Houses for a press conference Wednesday afternoon, noted that NYCHA had known about the positive arsenic test results on Sept. 2 during his initial press conference, yet only revealed those results later that evening. The episode seemed to underscore his primary criticisms of the authority.

“The whole situation has been botched, in my opinion, from early August, when the first complaints [about the water] came in, until now,” he said. 

While encouraged that the latest test results are negative for arsenic, the public advocate stated that “I don’t think NYCHA has given” residents “a good reason to trust them” due to the slow release of the initial test results, and a lack of regular communication with tenants on the ground during the crisis.

“The administration and NYCHA has to do a better job as getting as much information out quickly to the residents and the tenants association,” Williams said. “We should be having centralized meetings with the tenants association to get them the information.”