Queens officials slam NYCHA for water tank contamination and call for unannounced inspections

Photo courtesy of Costa Constantinides

Elected officials and community advocates gathered at the Astoria Houses on Friday to push for increased monitoring of New York City Water tanks, especially in lower-income communities.

Councilman Costa Constantinides, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, spoke in support of Intro. 1056, which calls for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to conduct unannounced inspections of drinking water tanks on buildings.

Constantinides was joined at Friday’s press conference by Deputy Bronx Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden on behalf of Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr., Astoria Houses Tenants Association President Claudia Coger and Bethany Goldszer, Senior Director of Programs & Development at Urban Upbound.

The push for cleaner water came after disturbing reports in City and State which showed that harmful materials including dead pigeons, squirrels and cockroaches, were not included on NYCHA and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene records. According to the article, water tank inspections are often performed after they have been cleaned, which does not give residents a clear picture of the potentially hazardous material they’re ingesting.

In recent years, poor water quality in public housing complexes in Queens and the Bronx has resulted in an increase in Legionnaires Disease, a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria that grow in warm water.

As a response to these reports, Intro. 1056 was introduced by Constantinides in partnership with Councilmen Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Health, and Ritchie Torres, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigation, along with Borough President Diaz.

“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about what will come out of the faucet when they get a glass of water,” Constantinides said. “Unfortunately, that appears to be the case for many, especially our low-income residents, as loopholes are exploited to misrepresent what’s in these water tanks. I am thankful for Speaker Corey Johnson’s call to action on this crisis, and proud to partner with Council members Levine and Torres as well as Bronx Borough President Diaz Jr. to make a step forward in addressing this issue.”

DOHMH inspections under Intro. 1056 would occur periodically and spontaneously without prior notice to the landlord. Following the inspections, the results would be posted online to increase transparency to residents and all other involved parties.

Water tanks are used in over 10,000 New York City buildings that are taller than six stories, according to the DOHMH. Landlords of these buildings are required to submit annual reports that confirm these tanks are free of sediments or harmful bacteria, but few than half did so between 2015 and 2017, according to City and State. The report added that NYCHA buildings had some of the worst-kept tanks, with residents complaining about “murky water being fed from tanks that were falling apart.”