Omits Facts, Evades Responsibility, Implies "Fake News"

RIOC Blames Community for Bad News on Contaminated Water Fountains

Updated 3 weeks ago David Stone
Children playing in Capobianco Park. Methylene Chloride, a probable carcinogen, was found in both water fountains here.
Children playing in Capobianco Park. Methylene Chloride, a probable carcinogen, was found in both water fountains here.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

RIOC, the Andrew Cuomo controlled State agency, stole a couple of tactics from the Roy Cohn/Donald Trump book: "Never admit a mistake. Never apologize," then added a Trump only "Fake News" twist. Will Roosevelt Islanders be fooled?

"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," moped RIOC Public Information Officer R. I. Huckasanders in a pandering Facebook post.

No examples were offered, of course. There aren't any. What Huckasanders and his controllers upstairs at 591 Main Street don't like are not misinterpretations, but information they've been unwilling to share with residents who deserve to know the truth.

Huckasanders duplicitous statement prefaced a gag-worthy post of evasion, outright untruth and feelingless omission.

Proud to be among the count of "certain members of the Roosevelt Island community," I'm happy to unpack this miserable hornswoggling and get some facts -- not interpretations -- on the record.

Irrigation system sprayer
Irrigation system sprayer

Original Sin, RIOC's Crime It Lacks the Guts to Confess

"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 playground," Huckasanders boasts as if singing a song of heroic achievement, but even this seems to be untruthful.

Common Council Member Rossana Ceruzzi, who manages a cat sanctuary in Southpoint, tells The Daily that those fountains were never turned off. They were later found, by RIOC's own testers, to be contaminated with excessive levels of fecal bacteria. Two weeks ago, we published video of a fully functioning water fountain in Lighthouse Park, where the same bacteria was reported.

The reality is, a resident, Frank Farance, troubled by lies the State agency spilled in trying to justify its still unexplained attempt to force the sanctuary out of Southpoint caught RIOC supplying all Island public playgrounds and parks with drinking water unfit for human consumption, technically known as "non potable."

It's important to remember that Farance, not any of RIOC's well-paid staff, discovered what was going on, and had he not done so, the State would have continued its practices without interruption. 

Determined to be unfit by every environmental authority at all levels of government, irrigation system water fed the playground and park fountains on Roosevelt Island. Irrigation systems are regulated for public health reasons because they're well-known to harbor contaminants.

E coli from wildlife feces, sickening parasites and pesticides, for examples, have been routinely found in irrigations systems. That's why they're regulated. 

Giardia intestinal infection
Giardia intestinal infection

RIOC ignored virtually every federal, state and city law governing irrigation systems from the day they first installed fountains. They know it but won't say so or offer guidance for people exposed over the years to their shoddy practices.

Giardia, the most common parasitic disease, may cause diarrhea, gas, upset stomach, greasy stools, and dehydration, and E coli causes "many common bacterial infections, including cholecystitis, bacteremia, cholangitis, urinary tract infection (UTI), and traveler's diarrhea, and other clinical infections such as neonatal meningitis and pneumonia," according to Medscape.

Because of the long duration of contaminated water supplies in all RIOC parks and playgrounds, it's a virtual certainty that some children and adults were exposed. That's not an misinterpretation, it's a fact. It's why RIOC shut off the fountains so abruptly and never turned them back on.

But the State agency has never straightforwardly admitted it.

You, your children, your friends or strangers coming to visit Roosevelt Island may have been sickened, maybe more than once, but chances are you never suspected the water. You thought your government made sure it was clean and safe. You saw all those articles trying to convince you that our water's the best in the world...

In fact, RIOC turned the tables on New York City, taking safe water and making it unsafe.

RIOC knows they did it, for years and years, but lacks the simple accountability to say so. They've never given parents, caregivers or anyone else the information they need to know about an insult to public health that's gone on for decades.

Those are not misinterpretations, they're facts, and RIOC's aware of them, but like a brat caught with his hand in the cookie jar, they absurdly refuse to confess, choosing instead to point fingers at "certain members of the Roosevelt Community," that is, those who blew the whistle on them.

Picnicking in Southpoint for the 4th of July while water fountains continued to run.
Picnicking in Southpoint for the 4th of July while water fountains continued to run.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

What makes the violations worse is that RIOC not only exposed park and playground users to contaminated fountains, they also ignored regulations written to protect the City water supply outside the parks.

Backflow prevention devices are mandatory for irrigation systems to keep bacteria, pesticides and parasites from leaking into the source of their water. RIOC admits to not having them at all in some places, and where they do exist, RIOC's failed to meet legal requirements for annual inspections by the City Department of Environmental Protection.

There is no way to know, at this time, when and how often, if ever, RIOC sent contaminants back into the City. What we do know is that their efforts to prevent it were ridiculously inadequate.

So far, RIOC's hiding behind this statement issued through Facebook: "On July 23, RIOC hired a plumbing engineer, Cameron Engineering & Associates of New York, 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."

They just won't tell you the truth, plain and simple. So, we had to. We didn't misinterpret anything or cause "undue alarm." We told you what RIOC should have but won't.

The plan seems to be to pump out a remediation plan, one likely, according to Rosenthal, to result in permanently shutting off some water fountains, and spin the story forward without taking any responsibility for the past. 

Just watch.

RIOC's Testing of Drinking Fountains

According to RIOC's mealy-mouth Facebook post, "After reviewing a second round of Roosevelt Island outdoor fountain water laboratory test results, a health official from the NYS Department of Health, in a statement we released August 8, said the water is up to standard."

That's simply untrue and RIOC knows it.

Fountains in both Southpoint and Lighthouse Park were flagged for "total coliforms" above allowable limits by RIOC's own hired laboratory, Long Island Analytical. (You can download the full report at the end of this article.) Total coliforms are used by researchers as indicators of fecal contaminates unlikely to be discovered in standard tests. These include parasites, like giardia (see above), protozoa and intestinal worms.

An EPA probable cancer causing agent, methylene chloride was also found in both water fountains in Capobianco Park at a lever 218 times the allowable limit. MCD, the acronym by which it's commonly known, may cause chemical burns with prolonged contact, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, and "Exposure by any route can cause CNS (Central Nervous System -ed.) depression. Ingestion of methylene chloride can cause severe gastrointestinal irritation. Carbon monoxide, a metabolite of methylene chloride, may contribute to delayed toxic effects."

Nowhere in RIOC's presentations, on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere will you find these facts. Stunningly, however, Roger Sokol, a so-called top state health official, is quoted as saying, "no coliform or E. coli bacteria was found."

Instead of disclosing the methylene chloride discovery, Sokol says, “Water test results of two fountains at Capobianco Field showed slightly higher (>738) than normal (500) levels of heterotrophic plate counts which is an indicator of low-chlorine residual. Chlorine is present in all New York City drinking water to reduce bacteria. However, no coliform or E. coli bacteria was found."

And RIOC accuses us of "misinterpretations..."

RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
File photo. Source: RIOC

The Plan to Hoodwink Residents, Using the RIRA Common Council

Perhaps RIOC's most cynical ploy in trying to dodge responsibility is its ongoing effort to win a dubious stamp of approval from the Common Council and its President Jeff Escobar.

"At the request of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA), in a formal letter sent to us on July 25, a meeting was scheduled and held September 14 with RIRA President Jeff Escobar and the co-chairs of RIRA’s Island Services Committee, Dr. Roger Sokol of DOH, a representative from Long Island Analytical, and RIOC executive staff and board members," RIOC's Huckasanders boasts on Facebook.

What goes unsaid is that RIOC banned media coverage, even after it was approved in advance. RIOC was so determined to manage the news and avoid uncomfortable questions, that two Vice Presidents, Legal Counsel Jacqueline Flug and Shelton Haynes, an athletic six-footer, marched into the conference room and evicted a reporter sent by the Roosevelt Islander and previously approved by RIOC to take notes.

The chicanery went further.

"The background of this issue and the testing results were discussed, all questions were answered and RIOC discussed some of our potential remediation plans," Huckasanders blissfully reports.

Common Council Co-Chair Rossana Ceruzzi and her adopted dog.
Common Council Co-Chair Rossana Ceruzzi and her adopted dog.

The whole truth is that Common Council Members Rossana Ceruzzi and Mickey Rindler were given no materials prior to the meeting, although RIOC had full reports for over a month. Neither had an opportunity to properly prepare, and found only snippets comprising well under 10% of the reports RIOC owned on the table when they arrived.

Making matters worse, Rosenthal rushed the meeting's start before either Council Member had a chance to read the snippets.

Rindler, who didn't even realize he had anything from the Long Island Analytical report until days later, told The Daily, "because I had to read the reports on the fly as we were listening and discussing, I never read them during the meeting."

Ceruzzi also told us she had no time to review the documents before or during the meeting.

The result, "all questions were answered" safely by RIOC after the Sate agency made certain that no one would be at the table who was prepared to challenge their flawed version of events.

"This is part of our on-going effort to keep in direct communication with Island residents," Huckasanders added, and indeed it is.

"Additionally," he continued, "the DOH statement and the test results were released to several Island bloggers September 4."

We don't know who the "several Island bloggers" are. We obtained our copy from Frank Farance who got it in a FOIL request. In answer to our FOIL, RIOC sent only the discredited Healthy Buildings report in which an unqualified company was solicited and gave RIOC results they wanted.

Fortunately, public pressure instigated to by this newspaper forced RIOC to go to a New York State Certified lab, Long Island Analytical, that found a situation much different than the original.

Those results, as you can see from the attached reports, are nothing like the story RIOC's telling in covering its own in disregard of the public welfare.

It's fair to say that RIOC would be less likely to misinterpret actual confirmable results is any if their top dogs lived here and had their children and grandchildren exposed to the public health hazards Roosevelt Islanders have been.

 

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