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Federal monitor investigating arsenic in tap water at NYCHA facility in Manhattan



NEW YORK — A federal investigation is underway after thousands on the Lower East Side have been told not to drink or cook with their tap water for days.

It’s because high levels of arsenic were found at NYCHA’s Jacob Riis Houses, which span about six blocks, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Sunday night.

A source told her the situation is being taken “very, very seriously.”

READ MORE: Arsenic discovered in tap water at East Village NYCHA complex

Residents have been spending the holiday weekend picking up cases of water being distributed. Some told Rozner they reported changes in the water earlier this summer, but no one took them seriously.

On Sunday night, tenant Migdalia Gonzalez showed Rozner the water coming out clear from her faucet in the Jacob Riis Houses. This, after the city told residents to run the water for three hours in case arsenic contamination was in the building’s pipes.

As Mayor Eric Adams took photos Sunday with residents getting free cases of bottled water, NYCHA’s federally imposed watchdog monitor, Bart Schwartz, notified NYCHA officials to “ensure the integrity of any inquiry,” and for the safety of residents “preserve all documents related to this issue”… including electronic and paper communications, test results and timelines.

A NYCHA spokesperson told Rozner, “NYCHA already retains all of our documents and records. We will continue to be transparent with the public throughout this process.”

Tenants say they’ve been complaining to 311 for weeks.

“The whole week the water has been like they say, brown,” Fuaco Abreu said.

One shared with CBS2 a video taken last month showing foggy-looking water coming out of a faucet.

The mayor’s office says there’s no evidence the cloudiness is connected to the arsenic levels, but NYCHA started testing the water last month.

A spokesperson says results this week showed “arsenic levels higher than the federal standard for drinking water.”

Since 2001, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has considered 10 parts per billion as the safe limit for arsenic levels. The city says tests of Jacob Riis units found arsenic levels between 12 and 14 parts per billion.

“I haven’t taken a shower for three days. I use the wipe,” Abreu said. “Because your skin, you can feel, you know, like something burning when you take a shower in that water.”

“I will give NYCHA and the health authorities credit for acting in this case when the results where marginal, indicating a possible unsafe level of arsenic. In fact, one test level showing below the EPA threshold, but they acted out of an abundance of caution ,” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said.

“My biggest concern is that from the initial report it took several weeks for them to begin testing again. I believe that was around Aug. 12, Aug. 13, and then a further concern is how long it took for those results to come back. I believe that was almost two weeks,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said.

Results are expected back on Monday for the latest round of samples to determine next steps.

The city says this issue only affects residents of the Jacob Riis Houses and the rest of the city’s water is safe to drink.