WHAT’S IN OUR DRINKING WATER?

May 31, 2018 at 4:30 am

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.

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>> 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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