Arsenic contamination on Lower East Side: NYC expects water test results soon for Jacob Riis Houses

The city is waiting for results on another set of water tests at the Jacob Riis public housing complex where officials found arsenic contamination late last week.

Residents at the New York City Housing Authority campus on the Lower East Side have had to drink and cook with bottled water since a report by the news site The City revealed Friday that city officials found the toxic chemical in the tap water a day earlier.

Results from the latest sample could come early this week, according to Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, who took to social media Saturday to demand more answers from city leaders.

“Latest example of unacceptable conditions endured by NYCHA residents: Arsenic contamination has been detected in the drinking water of Riis Houses in East Village,” Levine wrote on Twitter Sept. 3. “How did this happen?? When did it start? What has been the health impact? We need answers.”

Mayor Eric Adams advised residents against drinking or cooking with water at the complexes Friday, and that guidance remained in effect Monday.

Public housing leaders got the toxic results Thursday, but didn’t publish the contamination findings for a day until The City news site reached out about them, according to its report. 

NYCHA’s federally-appointed monitor Bart Schwartz has since launched an investigation into NYCHA’s handling of the testing, and asked the agency to preserve all documents related to the case.

“NYCHA already retains all of our documents and records. We will continue to be transparent with the public throughout this process,” said NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt in a statement.

The Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the Big Apple’s water supply, tested the water around Jacob Riis Houses after the discovery over the Labor Day weekend and released results Saturday showing that the area around the complex did not have the contamination.

NYCHA collected samples in and near apartments on Sunday for a contractor to test, and officials are waiting to get back those results, according to the mayor’s office.

“Additional samples were collected in apartments, roof tanks, and other locations yesterday, and we are pushing to get results as soon as possible,” Adams spokesperson Charles Lutvak said in a statement Monday.

The rest of the city’s water supply is clean and safe to drink, DEP found.

“While preliminary retesting results showed arsenic levels higher than the federal standard for drinking water, new results Saturday from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection did not detect arsenic from the water source entering the building,” Lutvak said. 

Reports of murky water at the East Side development on E. 10th Street and Avenue D began on Aug. 4, when Congressmember Nydia Velazquez alerted NYCHA about the issue.

A week later, a story by PIX11 reported on the cloudy water as well.

The city then hired an outside vendor to test the water for e-coli and chlorine, but not arsenic, and declared the water safe to drink on Aug. 16 — before re-testing it, the City reported.

“NYCHA began water testing in response to complaints of cloudy water at Riis Houses,” said Lutvak. “Results returned last week left open the possibility of potential contaminants, including arsenic. Those results were found to be questionable, so we have and are continuing to run multiple additional tests.”

The City Hall rep added there was no evidence the murky water was connected to arsenic.

“There is no evidence connecting the arsenic levels to cloudy water,” said Lutvak. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, we are advising Riis Houses residents not to drink or cook with the water in their buildings, and we are providing clean water for anyone who needs it.”

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials believe the arsenic came from a source at the development, since the surrounding drinking water is not contaminated, and the agency is looking into ongoing repairs at the properties, according to The City report.