Arsenic Found in Water at N.Y.C. Housing Complex

The tap water at a New York City Housing Authority complex in the East Village was found to contain arsenic at levels higher than the federal drinking water standard, according to city officials.

The housing authority began testing the water at the Jacob Riis Houses in early August after receiving reports of “cloudy” water, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams said in an email on Saturday.

The city received preliminary test results on Friday and advised residents not to drink or cook with tap water, according to a spokesman for the mayor. Mr. Adams visited the housing complex on Friday night, when the city began distributing bottled water to residents, as first reported by the online news organization The City.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are advising residents not to drink or cook with the water until we have more conclusive information,” the spokesman said, adding that every household would be provided drinking water while additional tests were conducted. He said there was no evidence linking the cloudy water to arsenic.

There are currently 1,727 households, which consist of 3,772 residents, living in the housing complex, according to the city.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection has found no arsenic contamination in the water in the surrounding neighborhood, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said on Twitter. Another spokesman for Mr. Adams, Fabien Levy, said on Twitter that the concern was limited to the Riis complex.

It is not unusual for arsenic to be found in drinking water at low levels, and it can enter the water supply from natural deposits or from industrial and agricultural sources. It was not clear how the water at the Riis houses became contaminated. The city said the level found in the water was “slightly” above the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 10 parts per billion.

Large doses of arsenic can cause symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea to dehydration and shock, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with medical conditions like skin disorders, an increased risk for diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as several types of cancer.

Jumaane D. Williams, the city’s public advocate, said in a statement on Saturday that the news followed the unveiling of a new report from his office at Jacob Riis Houses on Friday that called conditions in the city’s public housing “unsafe and unacceptable.”

“When we spoke to the tenants on the ground, before the arsenic levels were public, they were already angry and exhausted,” he said in a statement. “This news exponentially compounds that suffering.”

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, whose district includes Riis, said on Twitter on Saturday that she was on site and communicating with residents to make sure they were receiving updates and drinkable water.

The public housing complex is named for Jacob Riis, a turn-of-the-century journalist who documented the difficult lives of New York City’s poorest residents.

Back to top button