ANOTHER NYCHA OUTRAGE

After a winter with no heat and infestations of vermin and mold, now New York City Housing Authority’s tenants are experiencing a threat to their water. The results of a City & State water tank investigation are ahead.

Aired on August 7, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

TONIGHT, WE UPDATE YOU ON THE SHOCKING CITY AND STATE INVESTIGATIVE REPORT ON ROOFTOP WATER TANKS AND THE THREAT TO OUR DRINKING WATER THAT WE FIRST TOLD YOU ABOUT JUST TWO MONTHS AGO.

THE REPORT EXPOSED EXTENSIVE DECAY, AND ALARMING CONDITIONS, INCLUDING DEAD BIRDS, RODENTS, AND INSECTS INSIDE THOUSANDS OF THOSE ROOFTOP TANKS THAT HELPED PROVIDE DRINKING WATER TO MILLIONS OF NEW YORKERS EVERY DAY.

AND NOW, A NEW REPORT SHOWS EVEN MORE DAMAGING FINDINGS.

HERE TO UPDATE US WITH THE LATEST IS FRANK RUNYON, FORMER REPORTER, WHO ORIGINALLY BROKE THE STORY.

FRANK, WELCOME BACK TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

FIRST LET'S START OFF WITH THE UPDATE.

WELL, I FOCUS IN ON ONE PARTICULAR GROUP OF BUILDINGS IN NEW YORK.

WE LOOKED AT NYCHA.

IT WAS IMPORTANT THAT WE LOOK AT THAT AND HOW THOSE TANKS WERE BEING MAINTAINED.

WHAT WE FOUND WHEN WE CHECKED INTERNAL DOCUMENTS AGAINST HEALTH DEPARTMENT DOCUMENTS IS THAT THEY DIDN'T MATCH, THAT THE INTERNAL DOCUMENTS SHOWED CONTAMINATION IN THE DRINKING WATER TANKS AND THAT NYCHA WAS TURNING AROUND AND REPORTING THAT THERE WAS NO UNSANITARY CONDITIONS IN THOSE TANKS.

THIS IS ON TOP OF SEVERAL, LET'S SAY, INCONGRUOUS REPORTS THAT WE'VE SEEN FROM WHAT'S BEEN REPORTED AND WHAT'S THE OFFICIAL STANCE.

BUT HAS THERE BEEN ANY INDICATION OF THERE BEING ANY SORT OF DISEASE OR SICKNESS TIED TO THE WATER THAT WAS COMING OUT OF THE PIPES FROM THESE CONTAMINATED WATER TOWERS?

NOTHING BEYOND WHAT SOME OF THE TENANTS SAY THEY FEEL.

THEY SAY THAT THEY'RE AFRAID OF THEIR DRINKING WATER.

SOME OF THEM HAVE SAID THAT IT MAKES THEM FEEL ILL WHEN THEY DRINK IT.

THE EPIDEMIOLOGY OF DRINKING WATER IS COMPLICATED.

IT'S DIFFICULT TO TIE SOMETHING SPECIFIC TO DRINKING WATER.

AND AS A MATTER OF FACT, A LOT OF THE TIMES THEY WILL TELL YOU THE LAST THING PEOPLE THINK OF IS YOUR DRINKING WATER.

THE CHINESE FOOD I ATE, OR THE CHICKEN I UNDERCOOKED, MAYBE THAT WAS IT, WHY I DON'T FEEL WELL.

SO IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO DO THAT.

I WANT TO BE CLEAR AT THIS MOMENT, NO, THERE ARE NOT.

THERE'S NO PROOF THAT SHOWS THAT ILLNESSES ARE TIED TO DRINKING WATER TANKS.

GOING BACK TO THESE TWO DIFFERENT REPORTS, WHAT EXACTLY -- DO WE KNOW WHAT EXACTLY HAS BEEN LEFT OUT OR CHANGED, OR RETRACTED, PERHAPS?

I'M NOT EVEN SURE WHAT THE RIGHT WORD IS.

YEAH, SURE, IF YOU LOOK AT THAT HE HAS HANDWRITTEN REPORTS WHICH THE GUYS THAT LITERALLY CLIMB INSIDE THESE BIG WOODEN BARRELS ON THE ROOFTOPS AND THEY CLEAN THEM OUT, AND IT'S A DIFFICULT JOB.

AND THEY HAVE WRITTEN DOWN BIRDS IN THE TANK, INSECTS ARE IN THE TANK, DECEASED SQUIRRELS IN THE TANK.

SO THEY'LL WRITE THESE THINGS DOWN IN HANDWRITING ON A FORM THAT NYCHA GIVES THEM AND THEN THEY'LL TURN THAT OVER TO NYCHA.

WHAT HAPPENED IS AT SOME POINT ALONG THE WAY THAT INFORMATION WAS NOT PASSED TO THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT.

THERE WAS A POLICY THAT WAS PUT IN PLACE THAT ACTUALLY LED TO WHITEOUT BEING PUT ON THOSE DOCUMENTS AND STRIKING OUT SOME OF THAT INFORMATION.

SOME OF THAT WAS RETAINED AND STAYED ON THE FORMS, AND OTHER TIMES IT VANISHED.

SO IT IS DIFFICULT TO KNOW HOW MANY TIMES PEOPLE SIMPLY DIDN'T RECORD THE INFORMATION AT ALL, OR INFORMATION WAS VERY EFFECTIVELY ERASED.

BUT WE KNOW THAT AT LEAST 71 TIMES WE FOUND EVIDENCE THAT THE DOCUMENTS WERE CLEARLY ALTERED.

AND A COUPLE DOZEN TIMES THAT THERE WERE NOTATIONS THAT WERE CLEARLY SHOWING CONTAMINATION IN THE TANKS.

IT WAS NEVER REPORTED TO THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT.

WE DID SORT OF GET INTO THIS THE LAST TIME WE SPOKE.

I DID WANT TO CIRCLE BACK AGAIN.

YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SPEAK TO THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO ACTUALLY ARE IN CHARGE OF MAINTAINING THESE TANKS, CHECKING ON THEM, ET CETERA.

HOW PERVASIVE IS THIS PROBLEM OF FOREIGN OBJECTS OR CREATURES GETTING INTO THESE WATER TANKS?

IS IT AN OCCASIONAL THING, OR IS IT A LOT MORE PREVALENT THAN WE'RE THINKING?

IT'S DIFFICULT TO SAY.

I THINK THE ANSWER IS THAT IF YOU DON'T REPAIR STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS IN THE DRINKING TANK, AND LET ME MAKE THAT CLEAR, IF THERE'S A HOLE IN THE DRINKING WATER TANK, THINGS GET IN IT.

IT'S JUST THAT SIMPLE.

SO IF YOU AREN'T REPAIRING AND MAINTAINING YOUR TANK PROPERLY, THEN, YOU KNOW, IT'S JUST NOT GOING TO BE CLEAR TO ANYBODY WHAT EXACTLY GETS IN THAT TANK IN THE COURSE OF A YEAR.

WHEN THE CLEANERS SHOW UP, SOMETIMES THEY'LL FIND BIRDS DEAD, SOMETIMES THEY'LL FIND OTHER ANIMALS DEAD, INSECTS IN THERE.

BUT WHAT'S BEEN HAPPENING THE OTHER 364 DAYS?

THAT IS FOOD FOR THOUGHT.

SO MOVING ON THEN, DO WE KNOW OF ANY ACTION THAT'S BEEN TAKEN?

AS I UNDERSTAND COUNSELOR SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON HAS TAKEN UP THIS CAUSE.

HE CALLED AN EMERGENCY MEETING WITH THOSE NYCHA TENANTS IN CHELSEA HOUSES AND ELLIOTT HOUSES IN DUNTOWN MANHATTAN.

AND SO WE WILL HAVE TO SEE WHAT COMES OF THAT.

I DON'T KNOW.

BUT I AM AWARE THAT HE HAS CALLED THAT MEETING.

I'M NOT SURE IT'S BEEN SCHEDULED YET.

ALL RIGHT.

AND THEN, ALSO, WHEN IT COMES TO THE WATER TANKS THAT -- AT LEAST HAVE THE DAMAGE AND FOREIGN OBJECTS OR CREATURES HAVE BEEN GETTING INTO THEM, THERE ISN'T ANY DEFINITIVE PROOF THAT THIS WATER IS MAKING PEOPLE SICK.

HOWEVER, HAS THERE BEEN ANY SORT OF ADVICE COMING FROM THE CITY IN TERMS OF WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING IF YOU ARE GETTING YOUR WATER FROM THESE WATER TANKS JUST TO BE SAFE?

WHAT YOU CAN DO IS REQUEST THESE REPORTS FROM YOUR LANDLORD.

AND IF YOUR LANDLORD IS NYCHA, YOU CAN REQUEST THEM FROM NYCHA, I MADE A REQUEST FOR EVERY DRINKING WATER TANK INSPECTION REPORT AND THEY GAVE THEM TO ME WITHIN FIVE DAYS.

THEY REQUIRED ME TO DO THAT.

IT'S YOUR RIGHT AS A TENANT TO GET THIS INFORMATION.

START THERE.

CALL UP YOUR LANDLORD.

IF THEY WON'T GIVE IT TO YOU, CALL UP THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT AND THEY CAN FORCE THEM TO DO THAT.

UNFORTUNATELY WHERE WE ARE AT THE MOMENT IS YOUR BEST BET IS ARMING YOURSELF WITH INFORMATION, AND THEN GOING TO YOUR PUBLIC OFFICIALS, HEALTH DEPARTMENT, CITY AGENCIES.

SO I THINK THAT'S THE BEST I CAN DO.

OKAY.

SO NOT SO MUCH BOIL WATER, BUT DEFINITELY GET ON THE PAPERWORK ASPECT?

RIGHT.

I WOULD JUST MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE ARE AWARE OF THE PROBLEMS THAT YOU ARE SEEING IN YOUR OWN APARTMENT.

IF YOU'RE SEEING DARK WATER COMING INTO YOUR APARTMENT, CALL 311.

REPORT THIS.

THE MORE THAT THERE ARE PUBLIC RECORDS OF THESE PROBLEMS, THE MORE THAT JOURNALISTS LIKE MYSELF ARE ABLE TO CHASE DOWN THOSE PROBLEMS AND WE CAN ESTABLISH PATTERNS AND SEE WHERE THINGS ARE NOT BEING REPORTED.

THE MORE INFORMATION THERE IS ABOUT IT.

LISTEN, FRANK, I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR NOT ONLY BREAKING THIS STORY, BECAUSE THIS IS THE KIND OF REPORTING THAT MAKES LOCAL NEWS SO INCREDIBLY VALUABLE TO ALL OF US.

BUT THANK YOU ALSO FOR KEEPING US UP TO DATE ON WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH IT.

AND WE'LL BE FOLLOWING YOU.

AND OF COURSE THE STORIES THAT CONTINUE TO DEVELOP.

MY PLEASURE, 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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