WHAT’S IN OUR DRINKING WATER?

Pigeons, roaches, rats and widespread neglect were discovered inside thousands of dilapidated tanks that supply drinking water to millions of New Yorkers. Frank Runyeon, a senior reporter for City & State, broke the story. He takes us inside his shocking investigation.

Aired on May 30, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO METROFOCUS.

I'M RAFAEL PI RAMAN.

WE BEGIN TONIGHT WITH AN INVESTIGATIVE REPORT FROM CITY AND STATE MAGAZINE THAT HAS EXPOSED EXTENSIVE DECAY AND ALARMING CONDITIONS IN THOUSAND OF THE WODEN WATER TOWERS THAT PROVIDE DRINKING WATER TO MILLIONS OF NEW YORKERS EVERY DAY.

FROM CAULK ROACHES TO DEAD PIGEONS AND RATS THE FINDINGS ARE SHOCKING.

A REVIEW OF CITY RECORDS KATE THAT MOST BUILD OWNERS DO NOT RESPECT AND CLEAN TANKS DESPITE A LAW REQUIRING THEM TO DO SO.

AND THERE IS WIDESPREAD AGREEMENT AMONG EPA SCIENCES AND HEALTH EXPERIENCE THAT THE CONDITIONS FOUND ALMOST CERTAINLY PRESENT HEALTH RISKS.

JENN AIF FLANAGAN SPOKE WITH FRANK RUN ONSENIOR REPORTER FROM CITY AND STATE WHO BROKE THE STORY.

THANKS.

RAF WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME ON.

HOW ON EARTH DID YOU EVEN DISCOVER THIS STORY OR REALIZE THIS WAS A PROBLEM.

IN GOES BACK TO 2011 BEFORE I WAS ACTUALLY A PAID JOURNALIST, WAS ONE OF THE EARLY STORY PITCHES I HAD.

I WAS WONDERING WHAT WAS INSIDE THE WATER TANKS.

SUPPOSED TO BE A FEATURE PIECE.

NEVER DID I THINK THERE WAS DRINKING WATER INSIDE THEM.

BUT THERE WAS.

AND FROM THERE BEGAN A VERY LONG STORY OF LOOKING INTO THESE WATER TANKS AND TRYING TO BE ABLE TO BEST HE TELL THE STORY OF WHAT'S GOING ON INSIDE OF THESE TANKS.

AND THAT SEEMS A GREAT JOURNALISM STORY.

SOMETHING I WAS JUST WONDERING.

I WANT YOU TO TAKE US INSIDE THE TANKS BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT MAKES THIS ARTICLE SO SHOCKING IS THAT IT'S GROSS.

IT IS VERY SURPRISING, I THINK PARTICULARLY WITH ALL THE RHETORIC AROUND NEW YORK CITY BRAGGING ABOUT WATER QUALITY AND HOW WONDERFUL AND PURE IT IS, HOW MUCH MONEY THEY INVEST IN IT AND THEY CAMPAIGN ON IT.

THERE IS A BLIND SPOT IT SEEMS IN THE OVERSIGHT.

IT'S METICULOUSLY TESTED AND TAKEN CARE OF.

THEY BUY LOTS OF LAND AROUND THE RESERVOIR, THE STATE.

AND YOU KNOW BUT WE IT ARRIVES AT CURBSIDE AT BUILDINGS IT'S THE LANDLORD'S RESPONSIBILITY TO CARE FOR THE DRINKING WATER.

UM-HUM.

AND IT'S AT THAT POINT THE WATER IS PUMPED UP TO WOODEN BARRELS, THE CONSTRUCTION OF WHICH REALLY HAS NOT CHANGED MUCH IN 100 YEARS.

THERE ARE ELECTRIC PUMPS.

THERE ARE HEATING MECHANISMS.

BUT WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO IT IT IS A WOODEN BARREL UPON A ROOF TOP.

ALL RIGHT AND THEN IT'S NOT JUST THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT WATER HELD IN A WOODEN BARREL ON A ROOF TOP.

THERE WERE SEVERAL INSS OF ACTUAL DEAD THINGS FLOATING IN THE WATER TOWERS.

SO THEN LARGELY PEOPLE TAKING WARE ARE CARE OF THE TANKS REFER TO THEMSELVES AS TANKMAN THEY BUILD THESE THESE THINGS AT GREAT RISK TO THEMSELVES THEY CLIMB INSIDE AND KNOW THEM BEST.

THEY HAVE A CATALOG OF STORIES ABOUT THE DIFFERENT CREATURES THEY HAVE FOUND INSIDE.

NOT EVERY TANK HAS A PAIGEN IN IT OR A RODENT.

I BELIEVE ONE MAN MADE THE REFERENCE TO A RAT MARTINNY.

SQUIRREL MARTEN Y.

HE HAD SEEN THE SQUIRREL.

HE MADE THE SKBLOEK TO THE CLEANER AND WHO THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY.

THERE WERE SQUIRRELS WHO DROWNED THE DRINKING WATER.

YOU DID REACH OUT TO SEVERAL SCIENTISTING ALARMED AT WHAT YOU WERE FINDING.

BUT WERE THERE HEALTH RISKS WE KNOW TO PEOPLE DRINKING THE WATER?

IT'S VERY DIFFICULT WHEN YOU TALK TO SCIENTISTS ABOUT A PARTICULAR TEST CASE AND THEY'RE NOT ABLE TO BE THERE WITH, YOU KNOW, THEIR EQUIPMENT AND TEST THE SAMPLES.

AND SO THERE IS ONLY SO MUCH THEY CAN SAY.

BUT THE BIG TAKE AWAY FROM THIS FROM ALL THE EXPERTS' PERSPECTIVE IS HOW LITTLE IS KNOWN AND HOW LITTLE IS PROPERLY RECORDED IN TERMS OF THE ACTUAL DAY TO DAY CONDITION OF THE WATER TANKS.

AND THAT'S WHAT THEY WERE CALLING FOR, TESTING THAT HAPPENS BEFORE YOU BLEACH AND CLEAN THE TANK.

UM-HUM.

AT THE MOMENT THEY BLEACH AND CLEAN THE TANK AND THEN RECORD OBSERVATIONS OF IS IT DIRTY AFTER IT'S CLEANED.

OKAY.

AND SO MANY OF THE REPORTS ARE REALLY SPOTLESS.

AND THEY DO NOT MATCH WHAT IS COMMONLY UNDERSTOOD TO BE THE TYPICAL CONDITION OF THE TANKS.

WHAT WAS THE CITY'S RESPONSE TO YOUR STORY?

THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT HAS YET TO REACH OUT TO ME.

THEY SAID THAT THEY WOULD CALL ME BUT THEY HAVE NOT SINCE WE PUBLISHED.

THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT THAT IS AND NOR HAS THE DEPARTMENT OF CITYWIDE ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES IN CHARGE OF THAT PARTICULAR TANK ON TOP OF THE CITY SANITATION OFFICE THAT WE HAD A PHOTOGRAPH OF THAT WAS IN REALLY BAD CONDITION.

LAWMAKERS, HOW HAVE, HAVE REACHED OUT TO ME.

AND THEY WERE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE REPORT.

AND I'M ACTUALLY AT MY DESK WRITING ABOUT THAT NOW.

WELL, OF COURSE WE'LL LIKE LOOK FORWARD TO THAT.

ONE LAST QUESTION FOR RESIDENTS WHO WILL BE SEEING THIS AND WANT TO KNOW WHAT CAN I DO OR IS THERE A WAY TO KEEP MYSELF SAFE?

I KNOW I HAVE A WATER TOWER ON MY BUILD SNG WHAT CAN WE DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

THE WAY THE SYSTEM IS GEARED IS THAT YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO REQUEST THOSE RECORDS FROM YOUR BUILDING ORION.

AND THEY MUST PROVIDE THOSE WITHIN FIVE BUSINESS DAYS.

AND IF THEY -- IF THEY FAIL TO DO THAT YOU SHOULD GET IN TOUCH WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH.

AND IN THE MEANTIME YOU SHOULD HOPEFULLY BE ABLE TO G INSPECTION RECORDS DESCRIBING THE CONDITIONS IN TANK, AND BACTERIALOGICAL TESTING WHETHER BACTERIA WAS FOUND IN THE TANKS.

BUT MOST TELLING OF ALL IS IF YOU DON'T HEAR ANYTHING BACK THIS IS SOMETHING YOU MIGHT WANT TO RAISE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND ASK THEM TO LOOK INTO IT.

BECAUSE THEY MAY NOT BE RESPECTING OR CLEANING THE TANK AND MIGHT NOT HAVE ANY RECORDS TO GIVE YOU

THANKS FOR JOINING US, FRANK.

AND THANK YOU FOR UNCOVERING THE STORY THAT MOST OF US DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WAS FLOATING ABOVE OUR HEADS.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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