Mayor Adams questions need for NYCHA monitor after arsenic scare

Mayor Adams questions need for NYCHA monitor after arsenic scare


Mayor Adams questioned Monday whether NYCHA’s federal monitor has done enough to get to the bottom of an arsenic scandal engulfing a public housing project in Manhattan — and suggested that bankrolling the watchdog’s operation is not money well spent for city taxpayers.

The court-appointed federal monitor, Bart Schwartz, confirmed earlier this month that he is investigating the detection of arsenic in the drinking water at the Riis Houses in the East Village — which has since been declared incorrect.

But speaking at an unrelated press conference in Midtown on Monday morning, Adams said he doesn’t believe Schwartz has handled the unnerving situation at the Riis Houses correctly.

“We’re paying a lot of money to the federal monitor. How did this happen? That’s a real question. You know, I question these whole roles of these federal monitors,” Adams told reporters. “He’s been there for all these years, all that money that we spent, that money could have gone to the repairs.”

Adams did not elaborate on what he believes Schwartz should have done differently, but insinuated that the monitor knew about the since-retracted positive arsenic test results from the Riis Houses before he did.

“We were notified on [Sept. 2], they were notified on [Aug. 29]. That’s unacceptable,” he said.

While city officials have acknowledged that senior NYCHA managers knew about the arsenic discovery before Adams did, it has not been previously alleged that Schwartz had early insight.

In an email, Montieth Illingworth, a spokesman for Schwartz, disputed Adams’ inference that the monitor had premature knowledge. “We were informed Saturday morning, Sept. 3,” Illingworth wrote of when Schwartz learned of the suspected arsenic poisoning.

Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor, was appointed by a federal judge in 2019 to oversee NYCHA following revelations that agency brass had for years failed to address hazardous conditions in the authority’s various public housing projects across the city, including lead paint and toxic mold. As of May, Schwartz’s office had spent more than $32 million in city dollars on oversight operations, according to an analysis from the Citizens Budget Commission.

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The situation at the Riis Houses burst into public view on Sept. 2,when news outlet The City reported that NYCHA officials had known for two weeks — without alerting the public — that there were traces of arsenic in the tap water at the sprawling housing complex, which is home to thousands of New Yorkers.

NYCHA vehemently disputed the report’s timeline, and on Friday Adams announced that dangerous levels of arsenic were not detected in the water at Riis. Rather, the mayor said that the private contractor that had performed the tests had inadvertently added trace levels of arsenic to the samples.

Still, a retraction statement from the contractor, Illinois-based Environmental Monitoring and Technologies, revealed that the first positive test result for arsenic at Riis was reported to NYCHA on Aug. 26 — a whole week before residents were alerted to stop using their taps.

Adams, who visited Riis to drink water from a tap at the development over the weekend, declined at his Monday press conference to say whether there’s anything he believes his administration could have done better in handling the Riis situation.

But he pledged he will offer an answer on that front once his team has completed an internal review.

“We want to be completely transparent on who dropped the ball, what could have been done better, and make sure that it is done better,” he said. “I’m not at that place to be able to give you that answer.”

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