The testing lab that retracted its findings on arsenic at the Riis Houses and that NYCHA claimed had not been used elsewhere in its vast system had, in fact, been used to check the drinkability of tap water at dozens of NYCHA properties, THE CITY has learned.
The lab, Environmental Monitoring and Technology (EMT), performed tests on water samples at Riis in August that they said registered the presence of arsenic in the water there. The city Health Department then advised Riis tenants not to drink or use the water for cooking.
Eight days later, EMT shocked the city by suddenly retracting its findings, an about-face that infuriated Riis tenants and flummoxed elected officials trying to understand what happened.
At a City Council hearing last month, NYCHA Chief Operating Officer Eva Trimble testified under oath that LiquiTech, the vendor at the heart of the Riis Houses scandal, had only relied on EMT that one time at Riis.
That, apparently, was a misstatement.
LiquiTech has actually relied on EMT to test the water frequently at multiple NYCHA developments across the authority’s portfolio, checking whether specific water systems set up to combat the presence of Legionella bacteria are functioning properly, THE CITY has learned.
Last week Trimble sent a letter to the two council members who held the hearing, Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, and Alexa Aviles (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Committee on Public Housing, stating: “NYCHA would like to correct the record.”
Trimble admitted that NYCHA had “further reviewed our records after LiquiTech brought to our attention that EMT was used for other testing.”
Late Wednesday, in response to THE CITY’s inquiry about this change of narrative, NYCHA for the first time revealed that EMT had, in fact, provided Liquitech with test results at 33 buildings in 11 developments across Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.
Now some councilmembers want to know how Trimble came to make this erroneous claim under questioning by Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), during the Sept. 23 hearing.
NYCHA’s statement to THE CITY was somewhat vague about this, explaining that, “As of September, NYCHA believed that LiquiTech had not previously used EMT for any test results prior to this summer, but upon further review, NYCHA confirmed that they had.”
“How can you not know who your subcontractors are on such an important topic as clean water?” Brewer asked. “Who’s checking this stuff? Who’s paying attention to this?”
Brewer would not say how Trimble came to say what she said, but noted, “I assume she hadn’t done her homework. I don’t know how it works. But you need to know [the subcontractors]. My question now is, what else is out there?”
New Tests Ordered
Liquitech was hired in December 2019 specifically to test for the presence of Legionella, and is responsible for the water systems that “add disinfectants to the water, primarily to control Legionella bacteria growth in a building’s hot water supply, to protect residents’ health and safety,” NYCHA explained to THE CITY.
As part of its contract, LiquiTech is required to take periodic samples to “ensure the systems are providing proper levels of silver and copper, which are used to treat the water.”
Liquitech’s reliance on the Illinois-based EMT — which is a certified testing lab in several midwestern states but not New York — now raises questions about past water-test results.
At the recommendation of the city Health Department, NYCHA this week began very quietly going back and retesting the water at these developments.
The developments where this retesting will take place include Drew-Hamilton, East River, Rangel and St. Nicholas in Manhattan, Bland and Latimer in Queens, and Bronx River, Butler, Fort Independence, Melrose and Webster in the Bronx.
“Out of an abundance of caution, NYCHA will be conducting water testing at locations where LiquiTech used EMT to test water where copper silver ionization systems are in use,” NYCHA said in a statement in response to THE CITY’s questions.
NYCHA said the Health Department does “not expect the copper and silver levels detected in water samples where this type of treatment is being used to cause health effects.” Health officials did not recommend that tenants stop using the water at these developments, “even if there are temporary elevations in copper or silver,” NYCHA said.
NYCHA emphasized that the retesting will be performed by a New York state-certified lab and that tenants do not have to “make changes to their tap water use.” They estimated that this do-over would be finished in two weeks, and promised results will be posted in the management offices of the targeted developments.
“NYCHA has directed LiquiTech to not use this lab ever again for NYCHA testing,” the statement to THE CITY noted.
The debacle at Riis is now the subject of an ongoing probe by the federal monitor overseeing NYCHA and the city Department of Investigation. Mayor Adams has also promised a top-down review of what happened at Riis.