Massive mixup: Adams administration says no arsenic found in Lower East Side water, testing lab botched results

Adams, Jacob Riis Houses
Mayor Eric Adams distributes water bottles at the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Jacob Riis Houses in Manhattan. Friday, September 2, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Nearly a week after it was revealed that test results for water at the Jacob Riis Houses NYCHA development had come back positive for arsenic, the Adams administration announced Friday that the vendor which originally conducted the tests now says those results were “incorrect.”

Mayor Adams’ Press Secretary Fabien Levy released a lengthy statement late Friday afternoon explaining that Environmental Monitoring and Technologies – the lab that provided test results, which showed the presence of arsenic in the housing complex’s water last week – issued a “full retraction” of the results and released revised results.

Not only was there no arsenic in the Jacob Riis Houses water system, Levy said, the lab was actually responsible for introducing arsenic into the samples in the first place. A retest of the results by the first lab and a test conducted by another testing vendor – LiRo Environmental – found the water to be negative for arsenic, Levy said.

Nevertheless, the city is conducting even further testing to ensure there’s no contamination in the water at all — and residents are still urged not to drink or cook with the water until those results are announced.

“We have now tested more than 140 points — both at the source and at the point of delivery — and we can confidently say the water at Riis Houses is and has been free of any discernible amount of arsenic since the initial tests were initiated in August,” Levy said. “Needless to say, neither NYCHA nor any other city agency will test water through Environmental Monitoring and Technologies any longer, and the city intends to pursue all available legal options on behalf of the residents of Riis Houses.”

Since the possible arsenic contamination first became public last week through a report by news site The City, the Adams administration has advised Jacob Riis residents not to drink or cook with their tap water. Over the past week, the Adams administration and NYCHA have provided clean water to residents by giving out bottled water and through onsite “water-to-go stations.”

Levy said Friday the administration is waiting on test results for “non-typical contaminants” to come back Saturday before giving Jacob Riis residents the green light to resume using water from their taps.

“In the meantime, out of an abundance of caution, we are continuing to ask Riis Houses residents not to drink or cook with the water in their buildings until these final test results are returned and analyzed,” Levy said. “We continue to provide clean water for anyone who needs it.”

Although Levy insists that the administration has been transparent about all of the information surrounding the incident, many questions have been raised about who knew what and when. According to the initial report by The City, NYCHA only released the positive test results when the news site inquired about them last Friday, two days after the results were known to officials at the housing authority. Plus, the agency had another test conducted two weeks prior that didn’t show any indication of arsenic.

At a Thursday news conference, Adams insisted that City Hall wasn’t notified about the positive arsenic tests until Friday, hours before the news became public.

In the name of transparency, Levy said the administration will be releasing the initial arsenic reports from the lab.

“As such, we will be releasing the initial arsenic reports from Environmental Monitoring and Technologies that we now know to be inaccurate and the revised reports from the company provided to us today, as well as the negative results we received from LiRo Environmental earlier this week,” Levy said. “We will continue to provide updates as we get them.”