NYCHA’s lead in the water letter seen as misleading to tenantsPosted: Updated:
There are new concerns about if the city has been transparent with NYCHA tenants about potential lead in the tap water, and the process for testing for it.
In one apartment, lead in the tap water was at 947 parts per billion – well beyond the 15 parts per billion threshold set by EPA standards. The American Academy of Pediatrics goes even further, saying anything over just 1 part per billion can be harmful to a child's development.
In response, NYCHA, the city Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sent a letter to residents in April 2016. The first sentence reads, “Your drinking water is our top priority." That’s followed by bold font reading, "New York City has excellent water quality."
But further down, the letter explains how the tests were conducted. The results showed that unsafe lead levels were found in only one of the 175 units after the water ran for one minute.
DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza told News 12 that “we always recommend that water is flushed for a minute with cold water.”
Experts say the reality is people don't wait and get the water from the tap right away.
Documents obtained by Newsday using the Freedom of Information Act show something the letter didn’t — 13 of the 175 apartments had levels over the EPA’s standard when first tested. It was only after the retest where the water was flushed for one minute that only one was higher than that standard.
Sapienza, who was appointed a year and a half after the letter was drafted, stands by it.
"I think we've done a good job of getting that information out there. The letter did say to look at DEP website, call 311, or get a free testing kit, but could we have been more specific? Sure," he says.
He admits more education should be done.
Terisa Guy-Mayweather moved into the apartment where the extremely high levels of lead were found in Ocean Hill, Brooklyn with her kids three months before the letter was sent out. She says the information about lead tests is coming too late for her.
She claims no one informed her of the test results prior to signing her lease and she doesn’t know if any remediation has been done since.
"I don't want me and my kids sick from lead," she says.
Newsday independently tested the water in seven NYCHA occupied apartments in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Three tests found potentially harmful levels of lead, one that exceeded the federal limit.
Guy-Mayweather's apartment tested at 3.7 parts per billion, which is lower than the EPA requirement of 15, but still above pediatric health standards.
State law requires taps with elevated levels in schools to be shut off and any lead source to be removed before being retested. The same requirement does not apply for homes.
New York City does offer a free lead testing program that can be found at NYC.gov.