NYCHA’s Water Arsenic Poisoning At The Riis Park Houses Was In Plain Sight

Alphabet City, Manhattan, New York

“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” This is a quote that has been reduced to a cliche in New York City mainly because well, people don’t want to learn shit from history and want to manufacture realities that are set to avoid such precedence. Take what happened at the Riis Park Houses back in September, another shitty managed complex of buildings by NYC’s biggest scumlord NYCHA. Residents were complaining about the water they were drinking, cooking and bathing with for months. The water looked cloudy and particle laden even after running the faucets for minutes.

After months of delays and surely hundreds of tickets filed by residents, NYCHA finally sent a testing contractor and it turned out the water thousands of residents were consuming there contained arsenic, a toxic chemical if ingested breaks down the immune system and leads to diseases like diabetes, cancer and also impairs cognitive functions in children and leaves horrible infections on skin. Naturally this got widespread news coverage on all local corporate news networks, which got the sudden attention of Mayor Adams and the city’s Health Department and Department of Environmental Protection “teams” to swoop in with pallets of bottle water and a truck to extract water from the nearest fire hydrants and a mulit-spigot sink for tenants to use to fill their own bottles and buckets with.

The reaction by tenants towards Mayor Adams arrival was quite and justifiably hostile. Adams spent only 10 minutes on the grounds there listening to complaints while filming his get stuff done optics for the Mayor’s Office You Tube channel and then bounced the fuck out of there. The NYCHA commissioner and Minneapolis native Gregory Russ got an even bigger trashing from residents during a tenants meeting about the toxic contamination and he wound up getting demoted and half his pay cut from his overbloated salary (which literally was a dollar for every one of the 400,000 people who live in public housing). After all, Adams and this bastard Russ kept the Rtenants in the dark for months about the arsenic swimming in the pipes of the Riis Park Houses. Who knows what was the final tipping point for the Mayor to come down personally to finally answer their call. Did a sizeable amount of tenants wind up in the hospital from sickness and abrasions did Adams didn’t have any visits to his donor’s nite clubs on his itinerary.

As the weeks went on, the Mayor and his “team” from housing, water and health departments seem more concerned, in fact obsessed, about the contractor’s arsenic discovery results than the health of the Riis Park tenants. A few days following the expose’, Adams’ team proclaimed that the results were a botched false positive and the water was fine (after running the water for minutes without testing it when it first came out the faucet). This brazen gaslighting went over the heads of local corporate news reporters and printed the Health and Water Depts. words as gospel despite the city’s contradictory advisories to tenants not to drink or bathe with the water yet.

Most of all, the city nor the press never bothered to investigate where the arsenic or whatever chemicals were in the water came from except for a story by THE CITY that revealed that the tank filled with the buildings water tanks malfunctioned because of a broken water pump in one of the buildings that NYCHA staff claimed was repaired last year. But a video from a few years earlier from PIX 11 News Monica Morales sheds new sunlight on NYCHA’s toxic negligence. Mrs. Morales has been doing a regular beat covering NYCHA buildings for quite a few years now in her Monica Makes It Happen segments where she responds to tenants complaints about shitty conditions in their apartments and on occasion NYCHA gets shamed into fixing them (in fact I tweeted her about Greg Russ’s salary and she told him that he got paid for the amount of NYCHA residents he was “serving” for). When she went to the Wyckoff Houses in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, tenants also had problem with their water exactly like the Riis Park Houses experience.

Although a tenant did bring a very alarmed Monica to the basement boiler room infested with rat droppings and roach corpses, these few clips the segment displayed foretold a lot more about the toxic contamination of Wyckoff’s water. Construction sites around the housing complex had exposed dirt and minerals from the upgrades that look as if they were dormant for quite some time. Which leads directly to the Riis Park Houses that is going through upgrades of their own, but about 20 times bigger because their renovations and upgrades also involve the city’s climate change resiliency program.

The thing that makes this uniquely and heinously incriminating is the upgrades for Riis was scheduled to be finished 7 years ago and there’s clear evidence of the preservation project has been in a perpetual state of suspended animation.

According to the World Health Organization and the CDC, arsenic is able to spread in the air and I may not be a CSI detective or a scientist, but all this exposed soil and materials looks like hard evidence of carcinogen spread. And NYCHA’s legacy and proclivity for recidivist negligence makes this environmental crime scene more damning and it could actually make a case for making the Riis Park Houses a superfund site. It looks like the federal monitor for NYCHA should have not only had the water tested, it should have tested the grounds surrounding the buildings, because the evidence is everywhere.

This circle entrance on 10th street was wholly conspicuous of the NYCHA’s and renovation contractors negligence. Even eerier is the presence of the marked NYPD SUV acting a guard for the soil and mineral pile that was caged behind the fence.

What’s interesting about this toxic pile is it looks like it was only covered with tarp recently and it still was partially exposed. And being right by the FDR drive and East River it’s a certainty that the high winds produced from traffic and the open breeze easily spread the exposed contaminants around.

This pile of toxic filth soil and sand that was being preserved by NYCHA was found a few steps away from the patrol car. More evidence of a problem site being fixed at the last second even though this was horrendously placed (more like abandoned) by a park bench deterring residents from sitting outside on it.

And there are the other open air hazards from this stalled climate change resiliency project like this pedestrian path with the piles of gravel wholly uncovered. Even more ludicrous is the mesh that’s supposed to protect the busted gate and prevent these materials and soil from spreading in the air around the buildings are in tatters. 

This path also has pipes exposed too. Surely to filtrate the garden that should have been here nearly a decade ago.

The rest of the grounds around this section of the Riis Houses revealed more of the wasteland the city and the preservation contractors forgot about and let fester for years. Construction vehicles gathering dust and even more exposed soil, building materials and detritus left behind behind shoddy gates. The warning advisory signs mostly coming off as obligatory trite suggestions to residents and visitors.



There happened to be one construction site that had some activity and it was a smokestack blowing out steam from the ground below. The optics of this looked wretched as the various other sites that were left dormant, kind of like an old factory belching carbon emissions into the air. But the smoke coming out was odorless and probably serves a purpose to keep tenants safe. This might be the catalytic converter of the Riis Park Houses upgrade.


Sad thing about this is it clearly used to be a picnic/grilling area.

The dark and twisted irony of the inexcusable delay of fixing the grounds of Riis Houses is that Mayor Adams and his “team” were more diligent and prompt trying to cover their and NYCHA’s asses to fix this water poisoning scandal than NYCHA than to respond to hundreds of complaints in addition to the city’s negligence to upgrade the Riis grounds for people to walk around and kids to play in. With utter speed the Adams administration manufactured consent about the initial test results by claiming the contractor was wrong and conducted new tests days later with the results they wanted (while tenants still had to wait for official safety approval while also refusing to drink and use it because they didn’t believe Adams and health officials). Even Mayor Adams and his incompetent vaccine jester slob Health Commissioner Vishan made a little video for the local news gaggle and shotgunned two classes of water from a NYCHA apartment sink to show its safe, and were still clumsy and tone deaf enough to blame the tainted water on the tenants anyway when the Adams DEP commissioner Aggarwal actually cited a cause for the cloudy chunky water was that everybody in the buildings went to take a piss and shit at the same time.

Even after those reassurances by Adams and Vasan, people still avoided using the water for weeks. The local news didn’t help either because they just took the Adams administration’s words as gospel and the poison water scandal as faded just like every other goddamn scandal involving NYCHA recidivist negligence that has been wholly normalized in this fucking town, now known as the City of Yes by our swaggering Mayor. But the dirt about this city housing agency is still exposed, literally and defiantly on the streets surrounding one of the complexes they are responsible of running and improving.


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