Political Gamesmanship

Is RIOC bamboozling Roosevelt Island, dazzling us with clumsy distractions?

Updated 24 weeks ago David Stone
Razzle Dazzle 'Em
Razzle Dazzle 'Em

Of course, the first concern of Roosevelt Island parents is their children. Like a halfback facing a string of defensive backs, RIOC threw 'em a head fake. "On July 6, due to citizen concerns raised about water quality in the Island’s drinking fountains, RIOC immediately shut down the water supply systems in all parks and playgrounds and conducted testing from 10 different fountains and one splash park location," they reminded everyone. We did the right thing, was the message. Did they?

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle 'em
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it - Fred Ebb/John Kander from Chicago 

Emphasis on what RIOC did; deemphasis on the cause.

What RIOC failed to tell us is that it wasn't "due to citizen concerns." It was instead "due to" their being caught supplying water fountains with irrigation water. Irrigation water is, by definition, unfit for human consumption.

Under RIOC's management, Roosevelt Islanders of all ages, including me, have been drinking it for at least 25 years. Why? Because we took for granted it was safe. You probably did too.

It wasn't.

But RIOC won't tell you that, and when others stuck their necks out to tell you, RIOC blasted them.

"It appears that certain members of the Roosevelt Island community are misinterpreting data from our two recent laboratory tests of water samples from Island drinking fountains and are causing undue alarm," wrote Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson in a classic misdirection, posted on Facebook and elsewhere.

It was even pasted into in a letter to the ever gullible (or compliant - you decide) Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.

Give 'em the old hocus pocus...

Challenged to identify any misinterpretation by "certain members of the Roosevelt Island Community," RIOC remained silent.

Mission accomplished. Draw attention away by fingering somebody else, "certain members..."

Ha! Gotcha!

RIOC was lying. Not a surprise. Politicians all lie. Usually, it's in less harmful ways.

Referring to a statement issued by Roger C. Sokol, Ph.D., director of the Division of Environmental Health Protection, NYS Department of Health, Robertson wrote "no coliform or E. coli bacteria was found" in their drinking fountains.

"Total coliforms," an indicator of warm blooded animal feces, were, in reality, ignored by RIOC and the State Health Department, flagged in both Southpoint and Lighthouse Park. 

Yet, RIOC also quotes Sokol that the results "... are consistent with the water quality being delivered by the New York City water system and meet all applicable drinking water standards."


Also completely missed were cancer causing chemicals, methylene chloride, found at 218 times the allowable level in both Capobianco field fountains, probably the most used by Roosevelt Island children, based on their location.

"Certain members of the Roosevelt Island Community" made the information public when RIOC wouldn't.

Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-ler...

"On July 23, RIOC hired a plumbing engineer, Cameron Engineering & Associates of New York," RIOC boasts, "to complete an assessment of all water connection points from New York City water to Island parks’ distribution. Until RIOC receives that report and, if required, drafts a remediation plan, all the drinking water fountains will remain off."

Give 'em the old three ring circus
Stun and stagger 'em
When you're in trouble, go into your dance...

So, what about this "assessment of all water connection points" conducted by Cameron?

The Daily obtained a full copy through a FOIL request.

Guess what?

RIOC spent thousands on a report that never takes a look at the history of putting Roosevelt Islanders at risk for more than a generation by filling fountain supply lines with non potable water.

The report's damning enough in that it exposes RIOC as having violated standard legal requirements for protecting public water supplies for decades. And there's no reason to think the illegal practices would have stopped in the foreseeable future, had Frank Farance not caught them in the act.

That's when RIOC shut off the water, not before.

Like Trump, RIOC never admits a mistake, never apologizes.

Coldhearted is the only way I can describe the State's reaction to being caught. Not once have they shown enough regard for residents and visitors to issue a warning of any kind, let alone an apology for causing thousands, from infants to adults, to consume incalculable amounts of water unfit for human consumption.

The State doesn't seem to care enough, and neither do our elected officials, Council Member Ben Kallos and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright. Both deliberately deviated from the theme at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Roosevelt Island Public Library to praise RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal, now on the hot seat for mismanaging the water crisis.

Kallos even praised her as "the best RIOC President, ever." How many have you actually known, Ben? How many of them failed to warn residents about a public health crisis exposed on their watch?

Make no mistake - it really is a public health crisis, no matter how hard RIOC tries to distract you. 

One of my favorite anecdotes from my many years in sales involves Jerry, a New York City slicker brought Upstate to show us hicks how to sell encyclopedias door to door. I was a teenager working a summer job when I saw him, pen in hand, tell a couple he was about to sign to a contract, "Watch closely. You'll see that my fingers never leave my hands."

See? Give them something else to think about besides the hundreds of dollars they're about to sign away.

Distract them.

Give 'em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture 'em...

What is it they don't want you to see?

Even RIOC's own consultant calls it "dangerous." 

Cameron Engineering was not brought in to analyze potential hazards of RIOC's mishandling of water fountains, but at a meeting on Thursday, held at RIOC's Operations Department, their Project Manager Bertrand A. Byrne was asked about hooking public fountains up to irrigation systems, anyway.

"That would be dangerous," he said. Was dangerous, in fact, although RIOC refuses to admit it.

With RIOC Legal Counsel Jacqueline Flug sitting behind him like a puppet master and Rosenthal directly across the table, Byrne later walked that back to "risky."

And Byrne may have good reason to soften the blow.

If you thought Cameron Engineering was doing an independent, arms length study of RIOC's practices, as they implied, you'd be wrong. They stand to earn more by providing corrective services for the flaws they found. 

Is this RIOC at its most crafty or what?

Let's look at the dangerous part about which Rosenthal and Flug almost came off their seats to shout down questions.

To state what should be obvious, irrigation water is forbidden as a source for drinking fountains for a reason.

It's simple.

In-ground irrigation systems are routinely exposed to hazards like feces from warm-blooded animals sucked back into their sprayers, pesticides and other biological hazards. Regulations at all levels of government require irrigation systems to have devices that prevent them from crossing over into drinking water. Such systems are required to be tested annually to make sure everyone's protected.

RIOC's done little of that.

In most playgrounds and parks under its control, RIOC freely mixed drinking water with irrigation system water. It was so obvious Frank Farance spotted it just by taking a walk through Blackwell Park. Cameron's report confirmed it.

The risks?

The extent's unknown and RIOC appears to be taking pains not to find out, but the potential's enormous.

Anyone drinking from most RIOC managed fountains at any time before July, 2018, was probably swallowing something unprotected from contamination by feces, fertilizers and pesticides.

That's, in short, what they appear not to want you to know.

What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll never catch wise!  


Fecal matter in drinking water, exposed by measuring "Total Coliforms," an aggregate of bacteria commonly found in the feces of warm-blooded animals, is known to live in association with giardia, a protozoan parasite; single cell amoebae, also a parasite known to make people sick; viruses and intestinal worms.

None of these are normally discovered in standard testing, which is why total coliforms are measured and flagged as a warning when found in excess. 

Testing by Long Island Analytical Laboratory found total coliforms far over acceptable limits in Southpoint and Lighthouse Park without ever following up, and although RIOC's tried to avoid admitting that much, it's understating the case to leave it there.

Tests done this summer are no more than snapshots of conditions at a specific moment in time.

Look, if I take a photo of you while you're at your tanned and healthful summer best, that's no guide to what shape you were in last February or, even less so, five years past.

Water quality may have been better or worse at any time over the last 25 years at any of the fountains. We don't know. RIOC seems never to have done tests just as they never checked to see if they were in compliance with public health regulations.

You or your child may have picked up a virus that's caused repeated digestive problems over many years or be carrying residuals of cancer causing chemicals like methylene chloride in your cells. Until now, you'd never expect it to have come from drinking water in our parks and playgrounds, would you? We all thought it was safe.

It wasn't, and RIOC and the State of New York need to get their acts together and figure out as much as they can about what happened and who's been exposed.

In our view, RIOC needs to tell you this story straight and invest as heavily in an examination of the potential health hazards of their past practices as they have in addressing the future.  

The fact is that neither the New York State Department of Health, which is knee-deep in this, nor our elected officials, all of whom have been informed, have lifted a finger to force RIOC to do the right thing,

It's a public disgrace.


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