Eric Adams makes ‘symbolic gesture’ at housing complex amid water quality scare

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NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams paid a surprise visit Tuesday to a community center at the Jacob Riis Houses to sample the tap water, following a report raising questions about water quality in POLITICO.

“I love New York water,” the smiling mayor said after guzzling a cup from inside a communal center in the sprawling housing complex.

“My goal is just to come in, tell the residents of Riis that I’m willing to drink what I ask you to drink,” he told a TV reporter on site. “Being mayor is not only being substantive, but it’s being symbolic. This is my symbolic gesture, making sure the water is healthy is my substantive action that I must take.”

The mayor left the visit off his public schedule and did not inform the press in advance.

POLITICO reported on Tuesday that multiple residents at the public housing complex have been falling ill with similar symptoms — a continuation of health and safety scares at the long-deteriorating housing complex that Adams’ predecessors failed to rectify. The Democratic mayor inherited crumbling buildings overseen in part by a court-appointed federal monitor.

One of the four residents who spoke with POLITICO was treated at a hospital emergency room for “symptoms concerning for arsenic toxicity” in March, according to copies of her medical records.

In September 2022 Adams made a similar stop with city Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan amid headline-grabbing arsenic scare.

After a water test that year showed unsafe levels of arsenic at Riis Houses, city officials blamed the since-retracted findings on a lab error and said subsequent tests found little to no trace of arsenic.

City Hall and NYCHA officials cited those test results from 2022 in responding to POLITICO’s reporting. The city Department of Environmental Protection, out of an abundance of caution, tested a nearby water main last month and found no trace of arsenic, according to NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio.

"We take any and all questions about water quality seriously, but there is no arsenic," Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer said Tuesday.

During a budget hearing Tuesday on the city’s funding proposal for the housing authority, NYCHA CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt told City Councilmember Justin Brannan there is no need to test the water in residents’ apartments and suggested that fish or smoking was to blame for the arsenic poisoning symptoms.

That resident, Sheletha Hill, told POLITICO she does not smoke and does not consume any seafood due to a food allergy.

Hill and several of her neighbors said clumps of their hair have been falling out and showering gives their skin rashes and a stinging, burning itch. Two of her neighbors said their dogs suffered bouts of diarrhea after drinking the tap water.

Hill expressed frustration at the mayor’s quick stop to Riis.

“You didn’t even come knock on my door,” Hill said. "He didn't even come to see about us."