Some Elements Match, Others Don't, But Danger's Consistent

Water Crisis in Newark Strikes Similarities with Roosevelt Island

Updated 2 years ago David Stone
Water Crisis in Newark Strikes Similarities with Roosevelt Island

Newark, New Jersey, faces a contaminated water crisis that's being compared to Flint, Michigan's. But there are troubling Roosevelt Island similarities too. 

What makes the story troubling for Roosevelt Island is that a resident blew the whistle. Unlike crises exposed in Flint and Newark, no government or private authority responsible for public health caught it, although the hazards went on for years.

A painful similarity that hits home, though, like Flint and Newark, is that the State agency responsible refused to acknowledge the hazards they created and, in RIOC's case, would've continued to create, had Frank Farance not publicly called them out.

You've read it here, but you'll search in vain for any statement from RIOC acknowledging 25 or more years of contaminated water supplied to countless infants, growing children, adults and visitors using fountains in Roosevelt Island playgrounds and parks.

It's not that RIOC doesn't know.

Worse still is a foundation of support for negligence from representatives elected by us on their promise to look out for us, to be our voice of authority where we're unlikely to be heard.

With the water crisis still unresolved and no effort made by RIOC to address its past history of contamination, both State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and City Council Member Ben Kallos abandoned the theme to heap praise on RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, during, of all things, groundbreaking of a new public library in which she contributed next to nothing.

Neither Kallos nor Seawright have spoken out in support of residents.

You have to wonder if the situation would be different if the children drinking non potable water for decades, believing it was safe, were named Kallos, Seawright and Rosenthal.

Lead threatens residents in Flint and Newark. Here, it's bacteria, viruses and other contaminants associated with warm-blooded animal feces and high levels of methylene chloride, a cancer causing chemical detected in drinking fountains at Capobianco Field.

There's that difference, but there's a striking similarity in the official response.

“The parallels to Flint are fairly clear: The city (Newark) was denying a problem even though its own data was showing problems,” the Times article quotes Erik Olson, a top official at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This echoes RIOC's behavior.

RIOC, a State agency run by Governor Andrew Cuomo and his appointees, knows that most of its water fountains were connected directly to its irrigation systems, a practice termed "dangerous" by its own consultant, for decades in several cases, but has never released a public statement to his effect nor acknowledged far-reaching implications.

Such connections are forbidden by law because in-ground irrigation systems are well-known to be subject to contamination from feces, pesticides and environmental toxins through backflow. RIOC also failed to protect the City water supply with devices specifically designed and legally required for such uses.

Pressured to do so, RIOC never released a statement alerting Roosevelt Island residents and visitors to the full extent of their exposure.

In public statements, they've also lied, claiming "no coliforms" were found when tests were conducted. Coliforms are bacteria associated with fecal contamination. Amounts exceeding guidelines were found in both Southpoint and Lighthouse Park.

RIOC never retracted its false claim, which they assigned to a State Health Department expert, Dr. Roger Sokol, who later said he did not recall making such a statement.

Carcinogens found in both fountains at Capobianco Park, directly across Main Street from PS/IS 217, have not been acknowledged in any public notification by RIOC.

Some caution is understandable. Saying water is not safe "is yelling fire in a crowded room," Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, told reporters.

But RIOC took it further, shielding themselves by falsely blaming "certain residents" of misinterpreting the reports and upsetting the community. The State agency has been unable to point to any such misinterpretation or to explain it's own misinformation and lack of public notice.

"Nobody seems to care about us out here," one Newark resident told the Times in a statement that some believe can equally be applied here.

What would change if the children and grandchildren exposed were those of RIOC managers and executives? What if the community wasn't overseen by unelected outsiders?

Water Crisis in Newark Strikes Similarities with Roosevelt Island
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