LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (PIX11) — First, there were concerns about the water; now it’s the soil under the Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation held a public meeting Tuesday night to inform the community and get their input about a proposed plan to clean up contaminated soil underneath the Jacob Riis Houses. 

In a handout to community members who attended the meeting, the state DEC wrote, “The primary contaminants of concern at the site are petroleum-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), both of which are components of coal tar.”

The Jacob Riis Houses were built on land used as a manufactured gas plant from 1860 to 1933.

Rodney Rivera, with the NYS DEC, told PIX11 News, “It’s underground enough that there are no exposure pathways, so no one has to worry about coming in contact. There already is a two feet cap, so unless you are really digging in deep.”

As PIX11 News reported last summer, an initial drinking water test at the Jacob Riis Houses found a “detectible level of arsenic.”

NYCHA’S Senior Vice President of Healthy Homes, Dan Greene, told the community meeting Tuesday that the Illinois-based lab later admitted in writing it made a mistake and that several additional tests all found the tap water is safe to drink.

Some residents attending the meeting are still suspicious about the water and questioned whether the petroleum-related compounds found underground could be affecting the water. However, the State DEC explained that New York City does not get its drinking water from groundwater, so there is no connection.

The Draft Remedial Work Plan includes the following:

  • Excavation and off-site disposal of approximately 5,000 cubic yards of surface soil that exceeds the soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use
  • Installation of a demarcation barrier at the limits of the excavation
  • Placement of backfill that meets the requirement for restricted residential use in the excavation areas to return the surface to its original grade
  • Installation of a concrete floor in the storage room areas of Jacob Riis Building 4
  • Installation of approximately 12 coal tar recovery wells across the site

The State DEC is accepting written input on the cleanup plan until May 22.