EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) — The long anticipated New York City Council hearing looking into the Riis Houses arsenic water scare got off to a rough start when many residents were denied entry into the cramped, low-capacity hearing room.
Council members were forced to move the event across the street to the bigger Council Chambers. And after an hour they get down the business of digging into what happened.
The key questions were: Why NYCHA took so long to investigate brown water at Riis? How a contractor that produced a false positive for arsenic in the water was hired? Why it took so long to tell residents what was happening?
NYCHA interim CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt was given the job in the wake of the arsenic crisis. She testified there were 93 complaints of brown water dating back to May 1, eventually leading to in some water testing.
The initial results by vendor LiquiTech using a non-New York certified lab called Environmental Monitoring Technologies, flagged possible arsenic on Friday, Aug. 26 but did not tell NYCHA until Monday, Aug. 29.
Follow-up testing was quickly done by the same vendor and also showed arsenic possible present. That lead to the mayor and eventually the residents of Riis being notified — five days after possible arsenic was discovered.
Eventually, more than 100 follow-up tests showed the water to be safe, and the lab retracted its results, saying they were false-positives.
NYCHA said as it turns out, the brown likely came down to a faulty pump.
“We have already identified for key matters we need to improve here at NYCHA,” Bova-Haitt said.
First, better vendor management; Second, better resident communication; Third, better assessment of building mechanical systems; Fourth, better protocols for cloudy water response.
“I do not want to leave the Council with the impression that we did everything right. We did not,” the interim CEO said.
NYCHA also announced Friday it would be paying out up to $200 of reimbursement per household at Riis Houses for residents who had to buy their own food and water as a result of the crisis. Plus, there will be continued water testing, and more smaller meetings with neighbors at Riis.
NYCHA said LiquiTech started doing business with the city in 2019 and was not the Housing Authority’s first choice for this job. It was selected because it offered to collect water samples on the weekend.
It was LiquiTech that selected the non-New York lab that produced the faulty result. NYCHA said in reviewing past work the contractor has done for the city, it found no other instances where the EMT lab was used. Using the lab was a violation of contract.