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NY: Dangerous Levels of Arsenic Found in Public Housing Water Supply in Manhattan Community

Published: September 7, 2022
Residents receive water and other items outside of the Jacob Riis Houses on Sept. 07, 2022 in New York City. Following the discovery of dangerous levels of arsenic in the tap water at the New York City housing complex in the East Village, residents have been given bottled water and provided with water stations. More than 2,500 people who are living at the complex have been told not to drink or cook with water from their taps as an investigation continues. (Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Residents of one of the largest public housing complexes in Manhattan have not had safe drinking water for over a week after dangerous levels of arsenic — above federal standards — was found in the community’s tap water.

As of Monday, residents of New York City’s Jacob Riis Houses were told to avoid the building’s tap water while officials await the results of additional tests. The most recent tests all came back negative for the dangerous chemical element but residents are still being advised to not drink or cook with the water in their building, NBC New York reported. 

Tap water in the community, which consists of 19 buildings and is home to more than 2,600 residents, was initially tested by the New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) in August, after residents complained about cloudy, brown water coming from their taps.

According to local media outlet The City, residents of the complex were only informed of the contamination last Friday, despite officials knowing about the test results two weeks prior. 

The City reported that “it wasn’t until THE CITY asked that the mayor abruptly showed up to distribute bottled water.”

Riis resident Malina Barbosa, told The City, “We don’t drink the water. It kind of smells. When they turn it off and it comes back on, it’s brown.” 


Late in the evening of Aug. 2, NYCHA officials told The City that Mayor Eric Adams would be handing out bottled water to the community, but would not be responding to questions from the media.

“The NYCHA later that day confirmed to The City that water in the public housing complex had previously tested positive for arsenic, but those test results had reportedly only been confirmed that day,” The Guardian reported. 

According to a New York City spokesperson, “Preliminary results received today from retesting showed arsenic levels higher than the federal standard for drinking water, and while there is no evidence linking it to the cloudy water, the city has taken immediate action, including providing support and drinking water to every household at Riis while we conduct additional water testing.”

An investigation has been launched to ascertain how the Riis complex’s water supply became contaminated, and the NYCHA has been told to retain all documents connected to the investigation, The City reported. 

Arsenic exposure has been linked to several types of cancer as well as low I.Q. scores in children.

NYCHA came under intense scrutiny in 2016 after elevated lead levels were found in the blood of its residents, and remains under the oversight of a federal monitor. 

Former mayor Bill de Blasio settled a 2016 lawsuit, filed by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney, that accused the housing authority’s management of deliberately covering up unhealthy and unsafe conditions in its communities, including lead-paint exposure to children and mold infestations that impacted tenants with asthma.