Staged Meeting Appears Designed to Snooker Common Council

Mislead, Sprinkle in Some Common Council: RIOC's Recipe for Whitewash

David Stone
Capobianco Park's popular with kids all year. Two drinking fountains were found to have methylene chloride, an EPA "probable carcinogen."
Capobianco Park's popular with kids all year. Two drinking fountains were found to have methylene chloride, an EPA "probable carcinogen."
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Hang onto your hats. You'll need to, if you want to keep your head covered with all the hot air blowing out of RIOC. And put on some waders too. You'll want to protect your shoes from the free-flowing B.S.

On Friday, September 14th, RIOC invited select Board and Common Council Members to a meeting to discuss findings of a resident's discovery of water unfit for human consumption, pumped for decades out of park and playground water fountains, and a series of test thats followed the discovery.

But rather than a frank and open discussion, RIOC administration, lead by President/CEO Susan Rosenthal, treated their guests to a deceptive promotion. It appears intended to blow off responsibility by offering a partial, slanted account, omitting details that threaten the State with responsibility for years of public health hazards.

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Editor's Note: For as long as RIOC leaves video of the event available on YouTube, you can see it for yourself. Watch at the end of this article in two segments, each a half-hour long. 

Setting the Stage: Rosenthal

Arriving, Common Council Members found small packets of material waiting. Accounts conflict about what was included. Rossana Ceruzzi recalls getting four pages, abstracts, not full reports, of testing results on water fountains received by RIOC from Healthy Buildings and Long Island Analytic Laboratory.

Fellow Council Member Michael (Mickey) Rindler told The Daily, "I did not receive a copy of this report [Long Island Analytic) at the meeting and I do not know whether it was passed out." Editor's note: Mr. Rindler now (Sept. 22nd) discovered that he, in fact, has the notes, but like Ceruzzi, not a full report. Neither Common Council Member received part of the LIA report that flagged "Total Coliforms," and the Health Department's representative, Roger Sokol, claimed erroneously that there were no such reports.)

Of greater concern, because Rosenthal plunged into the meeting with haste like that of someone racing to douse a fire, is Ceruzzi's statement, "No, we did not have the time to review it before the meeting started."

RIOC's actions in setting up the meeting assured that Common Council Members Rindler and Ceruzzi would have no advance opportunity to review even the truncated reports waiting for them on arrival.

The first report, obtained from Healthy Buildings, a firm with its nearest local offices in South Orange, New Jersey, in mid-July, had already been discredited. The lab, among other things, is not certified by New York State.

Our research shows that Healthy Buildings also makes no claims for experience in outdoor environmental testing. Their practice is limited to building interiors.

Although RIOC refuses to explain how they came up with Healthy Buildings, in the first place, Rindler told The Daily, "Ms. Andreatta [RIOC Asset Manager Tamara Andreatta] stated that Healthy Buildings does water testing nationally and is certified in many states, although not NY because they never applied for certification."

We were unable to independently verify this claim. Healthy Buildings has not responded to an emailed request for confirmation.

But it's the second report, submitted by Long Island Analytical after Healthy Building's report was determined inadequate, that contains explosive information about cancer causing chemicals found at fountains in Capobianco Park and high levels of total coliforms in both Southpoint and Lighthouse Park.

Others present at the meeting, RIRA Vice President Lynne Shinozaki and Board Members Michael Shinozaki and Howard Polivy did not respond to requests for comment. RIRA President Jeffrey Escobar, who requested the meeting and worked with others to eliminate Frank Farance and the media from attending, was a no show.

Editor's Note: We have reason to believe RIOC intended to suppress the full report from Long Island Analytical but released it inadvertently in response to a FOIL request from Frank Farance who shared it with The Daily. Because we feel strongly that the public has a right to know, we've attached a copy of the full Long Island Analytic report at the end of this article.

Rosenthal's Attempt to Sprinkle Pixie Dust on RIOC Liability

Rosenthal launches the meeting with a statement about RIOC's commitment to public safety, one that apparently does not extend to informing residents of hazards to which their children and themselves may have been exposed.

RIOC's had Long Island Analytical's testing results showing high levels of methylene chloride at both Capobianco Park water fountains and excess total coliforms, an indicator of fecal matter in drinking water, in Southpoint and Lighthouse Park, for nearly a month but never released the information publicly.

According to Ceruzzi, who manages the Southpoint Cat Sanctuary, RIOC never even turned off the water fountains in the park, in spite of the findings and statements by the State agency.

PS/IS 217, across Main Street from Capobianco Park where children and parents have long gone to relax and hangout after dismissal.
PS/IS 217, across Main Street from Capobianco Park where children and parents have long gone to relax and hangout after dismissal.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Following a developing narrative employed by RIOC, in the video, Rosenthal tries to push off responsibility for dangerous public health practices on previous administrations. Like President Trump polling the room to solicit praise, Rosenthal asks each employee in the room to confirm their short tenure at RIOC, attempting to downplay responsibility.

Rosenthal herself, however, has been with RIOC over three years, two and a half as President, and her Vice President in charge of operations, which makes him responsible for parks and playgrounds, Shelton Haynes has been on the job for for two and a half years as well. Haynes was a final hire by Charlene Indelicato, Rosenthal's predecessor. 

She brags of how promptly her team responded by shutting off fountains when a resident, Frank Farance, discovered that water fountains were drawing water considered unfit for human consumption from irrigation systems. She never accepts responsibility for prior conditions nor does she explain why it was a resident, not her own professional staff, that made the discovery. 

As previously noted, Common Council Member Ceruzzi says Southpoint fountains, known to contain excessive total coliforms, were never turned off. The Daily reported earlier that at least one fountain in Lighthouse Park was also working. 

Rosenthal never addresses her failure to alert residents about what was found.

Handing the Ball Off to Stephen Noone

Stephen Noone has earned a great deal of respect for his efforts since arriving at RIOC to work under Haynes. He's tried to clean up contracting and operations foulups that existed for years.

For the most part, his presentation at the meeting was up to his usual high standards, but not all of it.

Given the floor, Noone, without drama, detailed the situation involving water fountains as he found it. Blackwell Park as well as Capobianco, probably Roosevelt Island's most popular parks for residents, supplied drinking water unfit for human or animal consumption until Farance's discovery, but also failed to protect the public water supply with backflow prevention devices as required by law.

Many of the other fountains pumped unfit water from irrigation systems but had backflow prevention.

Simple math shows us that over the last 25 years, while regulations have been in place, conservatively, RIOC fountains have served up 45,000 sips of potentially sickenly drinks per fountain.

Decisions will be made soon about what needs to be done to make drinking water in the playgrounds safe while protecting the public supply.

A rarity for RIOC, Noone fully acknowledged RIOC's poor performance.

But he failed to mention a series of errors that existed for a quarter of a century and have not been corrected. 

According to the City, "You must schedule testing with a certified tester at least once a year and file appropriate forms with DEP."

RIOC has never done so, not for a single backflow prevention device. As a result, as well as potentially spreading disease through water fountains, RIOC's failed to insure the safety of the public water supply.

When Ceruzzi raised her hand to ask the smartest Common Council question of the day, Noone made another gaff.

She wanted to know how long children and adults had been drinking bad water from RIOC fountains. After clarifying her questions, Noone answered, "We don't know."

That's, of course, untrue. It's been happening from the day the parks, playgrounds and their fountains went live. None at RIOC, not this administration or any before, lifted a finger to protect park and playground water until Frank Farance blew the whistle.

On to the Ethics Challenged Health Official

A man described by RIOC as "a top New York State health official," Roger C. Sokol, Ph.D, Director of the Division of Environmental Health Protection, NYS Department of Health, then took control of the RIOC presentation. His performance was hardly up to the ethical standards expected of public health professionals as he clung tightly to the preferred RIOC narrative.

Sokol babbled on consistent with how he was quoted in the past: "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 NYC drinking water to reduce bacteria. However, no coliform or E. coli bacteria was found."

That was not true.

Total coliforms, according to Long Island Analytical's report, were in excess of acceptable standards at both Lighthouse Park and Southpoint. They are so flagged in the Long Island Analytical report.

"The presence of these bacteria (total coliforms) indicates that your well water is contaminated with feces or sewage, and it has the potential to cause disease," according to the North Carolina Department of Health, in concurrence with many others. 

They are therefore flagged when found in excess as they were here.

More alarming, though, as he meandered through folksy stories about New York's water supply, was Sokol's complete omission of the presence of methylene chloride, a carcinogen in animals that the EPA considers also likely to be for humans. Methylene chloride exposure has additional serious consequences when in contact with humans and animals

A referral has been made to the Department of Health, challenging Sokol's ethics in withholding information important for public health.

The Skinny: Board Members, Common Council Members - Who's sticking up for us?

If you believe it's the responsibility of RIOC's Board Members and your Common Council reps to stand tall in your behalf, you'll be disappointed in what you watch in the video, should you chose to risk losing your lunch.

Capobianco is also a popular meeting place for friends, year round.
Capobianco is also a popular meeting place for friends, year round.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

The lightheartedness of everyone present, except Rossana Ceruzzi, is stomach turning, especially Mickey Rindler's cozying up to RIOC.

At one point, late in the meeting, Rindler says, "I'm a little perturbed, and it's not your fault because this was installed years and years and 40 years ago. It's perturbing to learn that no backflow devices on the lines with the irrigation systems. Now I'm not an alarmist so I don't think it damaged anyone's health..." (Emphasis ours.)

Since he was the Common Council lead representative, we asked him to explain: "I’m curious about a remark you made near the end of the meeting. You said — I’m paraphrasing — that because you are not an 'alarmist,' you’re sure there were never any ill health affects from all those decades of unfit water being supplied children as well as adults. How did you arrive at that conclusion? If you’re sure, why then do you think every environmental authority bans the practice?"

Rindler did not directly answer. Instead, he advised, "You should as a journalist investigate what BPDs actually are meant to do (it seems you do not fully understand their purpose) and how many reports there were of park or residential (not commercial or business) sprinkler system contamination of drinking water due to backflow before 1995, when the US EPA recommendation of mandatory BPD installation on such systems was made."

If you can figure that one out, I'll nominate you for a Nobel Prize.

To be fair, none of the non-RIOC representatives and likely not the Board Members had seen the actual full report at the time of the meeting. But as of this morning they have because we sent it to them.

Only Ceruzzi, who says she is deeply troubled by facts now exposed, and Rindler responded to questions.

RIOC officially asked that questions be directed to Jacqueline Flug, lead legal counsel, and Stephen Noone. 

To date, neither has been willing to answer the simplest of questions: Why hasn't RIOC informed the public about the hazards of which it is now aware?

Southpoint on the 4th of July. At least one water fountain here was found to have high total coliforms, an indicator of animal feces in the fountains.
Southpoint on the 4th of July. At least one water fountain here was found to have high total coliforms, an indicator of animal feces in the fountains.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

It should come as no surprise that they have not answered any follow up questions either nor have they completed a FOIL request sent two months ago, requesting information and emails about backflow devices. The State agency has swung into bunker mode.

The needs and concerns of residents have taken secondary status as RIOC puts self-protection ahead of all else.

Following are two videos comprising a recording of the full event and a copy of Long Island Analytical's full report.



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