Council Members Suspect Being Mislead

Common Council Angrily Rebukes RIOC On Contaminated Water Misconduct

Updated 21 weeks ago David Stone
RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
Source: RIOC

"The purpose of the meeting was for RIOC to fully disclose and report to us and the community as to RIOC's findings regarding the water systems and water testing," Mickey Rindler and Rossana Ceruzzi, Co-chairs of the Island Services Committee reminded RIOC President Susan Rosenthal in a letter yesterday. Later, they say, "it came to our attention that the full 79-page water testing report completed by Long Island Analytics was never disclosed to us." Common Council President Jeffrey Escobar also signed the letter.

The meeting, held on September 14th at the request of Escobar, quickly became controversial. Intended to answer concerns raised by the Common Council about alleged violations of water quality by the State agency, its standing deteriorated beforehand when efforts were made to restrict attendance. Local media was to be excluded as well as Frank Farance, a Common Council alternate from Island House, whose finding that RIOC supplied playground drinking fountains with irrigation system water, known to be unfit for human consumption, forced an Island-wide shutdown.

Common Council Angrily Rebukes RIOC On Contaminated Water Misconduct

Farance, who arrived at the meeting, pre-approved by RIOC to report for the Roosevelt Islander, was publicly evicted by a pair of Vice Presidents, Legal Counsel Jacqueline Flug and Shelton Haynes. Flug told him it was a "private meeting," and he was not on the guest list.

A frequent whistleblower who's repeatedly uncovered suspicious conduct at RIOC, Farance had been specifically banned in the run-up to the meeting. RIOC blamed Escobar while Escobar pointed at RIOC. The Daily was unable to sort out the truth, if it's clear at all, but although we've disagreed with Escobar at times, we've never known him to be dishonest.

RIOC's, of course, another story.

RIOC has not explained why they never gave Common Council representatives any materials in advance, although they had detailed reports from Long Island Analytical and Healthy Buildings, their first testing lab that was rejected for lack of certifications, and analysis from the State Department of Health, nor why the materials awaiting them at the meeting were no more than snippets and abstracts that promoted Island drinking fountain water as safe.

Both Rindler and Ceruzzi tell The Daily they had no chance to review even that limited material as Rosenthal plunged immediately into the meeting and kept a steady pace until its conclusions.

"While you gave us two double-sided copied pages from that report with the 'Volatiles' results of the Capobianco fountains buried inside, there was no executive summary attached as a face page and we were not afforded an opportunity to look thoroughly at these pages, either in preparation for or during, the session," Ceruzzi and Rindler said in their letter to Rosenthal.

Common Council Angrily Rebukes RIOC On Contaminated Water Misconduct

"Based on what had happened during the meeting and what we understand now," they continued, "the community can only surmise that RIOC did not want to discuss and fully disclose the aforementioned results with the public."

RIOC did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The State agency controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo has claimed that it released the full Long Island Analytical report, which flagged five separate violations of health standards, from unsafe levels of bacteria to carcinogens, to local "bloggers" on September 4th. Although it's unclear why the State would send material to unnamed "bloggers" ten days before the meeting, but not to the Common Council, the statement appears less than truthful.

The only local blogger of note is the Roosevelt Islander, which acknowledges getting the report from RIOC. This newspaper does not include blogging, and in any case, we got our copy from Farance who obtained it from a Freedom of Information Law request. RIOC responded to our FOIL with only the now discredited Healthy Buildings report with virtually none of the other materials asked for to complete our investigation.

The Common Council's concerns do not include decades of violations of water standards accumulated by supplying parks and playgrounds with water unfit for human or animal consumption, which we believe created a vast risk pool for residents and visitors but has gone unacknowledged by RIOC, because it was ignored as a topic for the meeting.

But Rindler and Ceruzzi have plenty of other concerns.

Water fountain connected to irrigation system, Lighthouse Park.
Water fountain connected to irrigation system, Lighthouse Park.
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance

"With regard to the total coliforms positive tests, during the session Dr. (Roger) Sokol of the New York State Department of Environmental Protection stated that it was not unusual for total coliforms to be high when pipes had been turned off for a significant period of time and there was standing water in them. In July, however, after RIOC released an announcement saying the fountains had been turned off, both of ourselves, Rossana Ceruzzi and Mickey Rindler, visited Southpoint Park on behalf of the Island Services Committee and found that, in fact, the fountains were on and operational."

It appears, from their observation, that RIOC continued providing drinking water to anyone visiting Southpoint after already being told by Long Island Analytical that the fountains were found to have excess "total coliforms," a flag for feces in water supplies, indicating risks for giardia, viruses and other disease causing organisms inhabiting the intestines of warm blooded animals.

"Therefore," the Common Council letter to Rosenthal said, "we demand that the fountains with positive coliform tests in both parks be turned off immediately and that they be retested for bacteria next spring before they are commissioned for public use." 

(Lighthouse Park was also found to have a fountain with excess total coliforms.)

Ceruzzi and Rindler were similarly upset by the mishandling of carcinogens flagged in Long Island Analytical's report.

"Concerning the high levels of methylene chloride found in the fountains at Capobianco Field, Dr. Sokol, in his letter of August 17, also indicated that the detected levels were likely coming from glue to connect plastic piping, which we assume was what was used to construct or repair the water system in this field.

"This is very alarming to us because, if that is the case, then the sprinkler system water had the chemical as well and copious amounts of it were disseminated onto the field regularly. Hence, we are extremely concerned that even those using the field who did not drink from the water fountain were also exposed to this volatile potential carcinogen which can enter the body through the skin and, since it is volatile, the lungs.

"Moreover, chemicals generally leech out in an exponential fashion over time, meaning that the levels being measured now are, no doubt, much, much lower than those that were present soon after the actual contamination commenced."

Had the Common Council been fully informed prior to the meeting, they believe, more questions would have been raised, and RIOC's flippant claim that "all questions were answered" might have been meaningful.

Rindler and Ceruzzi conclude, "To say that we and the community are severely disappointed with the disposition of our meeting and the actions of RIOC, and that all of our and the community's questions were answered during the September 14 meeting, is a severe understatement.

"Categorizing our September 14 meeting and the events that have transpired after as truthful and comforting is nothing more than pure spin on the part of RIOC on an already worsening and alarming situation."

The State agency has not publicly responded to the Common Council's letter and did not react to our request for comment. They have, however, scheduled a follow up conference with select invitees (including The Daily) for next week.

Typically, RIOC did not check with their invited guest list for their availability and has already been notified of scheduling conflicts.


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