Decent Life, Manhattan Neighborhood Network

Wider Public Exposure for RIOC's Failure To Deal With Contaminated Water Fountains

Updated 1 week ago David Stone
Roosevelt Island activist Frank Farance calls for independent investigation of RIOC's handling of public water contamination.
Roosevelt Island activist Frank Farance calls for independent investigation of RIOC's handling of public water contamination.
File photo.

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation's hopes for making the contaminated water crisis it created go away suffered another setback when activist Frank Farance was the featured guest on Decent Life on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network on Saturday. Full video below.

Initially thanked by RIOC President Susan Rosenthal when he discovered that the State agency was filling playground and park water fountains with non potable water - that is, unfit for human consumption - Farance evolved into her bête noire as frustrations grew over RIOC's refusal to make a full public disclosure or to advise residents about historical negligence.

As we've argued here at The Daily, on Decent Life, Farance insists that "the contaminants were probably severe enough to reach the 1-day/10-day notice requirements" set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Not only has RIOC refused to acknowledge the firmly established fact that their grounds department violated laws and guidelines for water quality safeguards for decades, Rosenthal has gone so far as publicly shouting down questions about it.

Off the record, her own employees acknowledge the violations but fear retribution for speaking out.

"You're on the right track," one who attended multiple internal meetings confided. Another cited loyalty issues.

RIOC's own employees know the truth but have been cowed into silence. This means that residents exposed to contaminated water for decades, mostly children, are not being responsibly informed.

"The community has been sorely disappointed in the lack of independence and lack of competence of Dr. (Roger) Sokol," Farance said, referring to a State Health Department official brought in by RIOC as an "expert."

"Dr. Sokol incompetently states that the drinking water on Roosevelt Island tests the same as other NYC water, yet when asked 'Would you let your children drink the water?' there's a long silent pause," Farance continues.

That question was posed by Manhattan Community Board 8 representative Lynne Strong-Shinozaki at a meeting arranged by RIOC in hopes of putting an end to questions about water quality safety.

Feces, pesticides and other hazards enter in-ground irrigation systems, making them dangerous sources for fountains as they were here since, at least, the 1990s.
Feces, pesticides and other hazards enter in-ground irrigation systems, making them dangerous sources for fountains as they were here since, at least, the 1990s.

After pausing, Sokol rambled indecisively about more tests being needed. In the same session, he disputed claims attributed to him by RIOC that fecal bacteria was not found in water fountains tests. (Long Island Analytical found total coliforms, a measure of feces in the water, in excessive of established limits in at least two locations.)

"We do need a study on the health effects... as RIOC has operated contaminated water fountains for years."

A private consultant hired by RIOC described the State's management of playground and park water fountains as "dangerous," but RIOC failed to confirm that assessment publicly.

Farance calls for an independent investigation into RIOC's handling of the water quality crisis. 

The Daily takes that a step farther. An investigation of the attempted coverup by RIOC is also called for. Was it abetted by State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and City Council Member Ben Kallos, both of whom have been fully informed but failed to take action to protect constituents?

Residents have a right to know who's responsible for allowing a generation of children to drink non potable water. What risks have been associated with it, and what are the potential longterm effects? Explanations are RIOC's minimum responsibility.

If RIOC administration, employees and other public officials conspired to shield an agency run by Governor Andrew Cuomo, through surrogates, during an election season, have election as well as public health laws been broken?

Given Cuomo's firm control of New York State agencies, it's unlikely any is capable of conducting an objective investigation. Eventually, RIOC will be forced into transparency by legal action in the courts or by an independent federal review.

Residents' trust in government depends on it, and the sooner the better.

 

The interviewer in Decent Life is running for election, challenging State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright in the 76th District, which includes Roosevelt Island and the Upper East Side.

 

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