Goldman calls on Adams to provide Riis Houses tenants with hot meals amid possible arsenic contamination

Riis Houses, Goldman, Adams
10th Congressional District Democratic nominee Dan Goldman calls on Mayor Eric Adams to deliver daily hot meals to Jacob Riis Houses amid possible arsenic contamination at the NYCHA complex. Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.
Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

Tenth Congressional District Democratic nominee Dan Goldman gathered with tenant leaders of Jacob Riis Houses Thursday calling on Mayor Eric Adams to provide daily hot meals to public housing residents there, who haven’t been able to use their tap water for a week due to a possible arsenic contamination.

Goldman – a former federal prosecutor who led the first impeachment of ex-President Donald Trump – said the residents at the East Village New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complex need meal assistance from the city after they were advised not to drink or cook with water from their faucets late last week. He made the request to Adams’ office and NYCHA after Tenant Association President Daphne Williams and Vice President Mary Cannon told him not being able to cook has put a financial strain on tenants for whom ordering delivery or takeout every night is too expensive.

But Goldman said his requests have so far been rebuffed by the Adams administration, who’ve been providing Jacob Riis residents with clean drinking water on site since the contamination became public.

“On behalf of these tenants, I have reached out several times this week to the mayor’s office to request that the city or NYCHA provide hot food, one hot meal per day, to all of the tenants here,” Goldman said. “I’ve been repeatedly rebuffed and told that they are simply focusing on the drinking water and trying to resolve the issues but that they are not going to provide food. I’ve also asked two senior officials with NYCHA to provide meals to the tenants and they have also said ‘no.’”

Mayor Eric Adams meets with residents of the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village after arsenic was found in the drinking water there on Sept. 2, 2022. Photo courtesy of NYC Mayoral Photography Unit.

According to Goldman, Adams’ office didn’t give a clear reason as to why they won’t provide hot meals.

Despite that, Goldman said he thinks the mayor’s office and NYCHA have been “working diligently” to fix the issue and applauded the negative test results they reported in a statement late Wednesday night.

“They should be commended for their immediate response and they’re around-the-clock efforts doing more and more testing to make sure that we figure out what is really going on,” Goldman said. “They have continued to test and retest the water and will do so for the remainder of this week and they continue to provide drinking water to the residents.”

Goldman also handed out 500 meals at the development Thursday, and said he’s been on the ground handing out food to tenants all week. But Williams said those 500 meals aren’t enough to feed the almost 2,700 Jacob Riis residents and she’s disappointed in Adams for not providing meals.

“We need this, we need the food coming in, because 500 meals a day is not enough,” Williams said. “So, we need more. And for [Adams] to not look at us and just see that we need this and we should have this is really heart wrenching.”

Jacob Riis Houses, Goldman, Adams
One of the city’s clean water distribution sites at Jacob Riis Houses, which tenants can use while they’re being advised not to drink or cook with tap water because of a possible arsenic contamination. Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller.

In an eamiled statement, Adams’ spokesperson Charles Lutvak didn’t address Goldman’s request for the city to deliver hot meals to Jacob Riis tenants, but instead focussed on all of the ways the administration is delivering clean water to residents.

“As we continue to advise residents not to drink the water out of an abundance of caution, we have provided clean water for anyone who needs it,” Lutvak said. “Residents can take advantage of the water-to-go stations available or pick up water bottles on site, and we have worked to coordinate deliveries for residents unable to pick up water themselves.”

NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt sang a similar toon in the agency’s own response to Goldman’s request.

“NYCHA’s Resident Service, Partnerships, and Initiatives (RSPI) Department has knocked on every door and checked on residents to ensure they have received notices and have sufficient water,” she said. “Additionally, they are delivering water to approximately 85 residents daily, and INCARelief, a non-profit organization, has provided approximately 500 meals per day to residents, as well as some fresh fruits.”

“Since Friday, NYCHA has delivered hundreds of gallons of water to residents for drinking and cooking purposes, and there is a water station set up,” she added. “On average, NYCHA has been giving out approximately 10 to 12 pallets of water a day, with 84 cases per pallet.”

The possible arsenic contamination at Jacob Riis first became public late last week when the news site TheCity reported that test results of the complex’s water had come back positive for unsafe levels of the substance. According to the report, NYCHA received the positive results last Thursday night, but only disclosed them publicly after the news site reached out Friday.

That report said the development’s water was first tested by the private water management company LiquiTech Inc. two weeks prior to the positive result, where the results came back negative, in response to complaints of cloudy water. News of the possible arsenic contamination also quickly triggered NYCHA’s Federal Monitor to launch an investigation into the incident.

The Wednesday night statement from Adams’ office said they’ve continued to receive negative tests from the areas where arsenic was first discovered, plus 140 other sites around the complex, after previously reporting negative tests on Tuesday. The city switched to a new testing vendor for the updated results, the statement said, which they want to “fully analyze” before telling Jacob Riis residents they can drink and cook with it again.

Additionally, the statement said delayed results from the original vendor showed traces of legionella bacteria – the cause of legionnaires’ disease – but that those results are likely inaccurate.

In response to reporter’s questions at an unrelated press conference Wednesday morning, Adams repeated the negative tests were a good sign but the city won’t recommend residents resume using their tap water again until more tests come back.

“We had a series of tests that took place, over a hundred. since then and each one came back with untraceable amounts of arsenic,” Adams said. “The lab that tested last week on Monday just notified us yesterday that they found a trace of legionella in the water. We questioned that because that was the same lab that gave us the questionable results before. But out of an overabundance of caution, we continue to give water. Before we tell residents to drink water again that comes from their tap, we want to be 100 percent sure.”

The mayor, who hadn’t taken questions from reporters since the incident first became public until Thursday morning, said his administration wants to be “100 percent transparent” as the situation continues.

“We also want to be 100 percent transparent,” Adams said. “As soon as that lab notified us that they found those traces, we immediately notified the public. As we get information, my team has been told and directed by me, we’re going to let it be known.”

This story was updated to include statements from Adams’ office and NYCHA at 8:55 on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022.