NYC mayor says their water is safe, but public housing residents disagree

By Maya Kaufman | 05/07/2024 12:38 PM EDT

After a tenant in Manhattan was treated for arsenic poisoning, she and her neighbors are demanding tests of their tap water.

People walk through the Jacob Riis Houses as residents and activists gather for a protest against the living conditions at the public housing unit.

Residents at the Jacob Riis Houses in Manhattan were told in 2022 that tests of their water showed unsafe levels of arsenic, only for the New York City Housing Authority to reverse course and attribute the finding to a lab error. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEW YORK — After waking up each morning with swollen eyes and hair falling out in clumps, New York City public housing resident Sheletha Hill landed in a hospital emergency room with suspected arsenic poisoning in March.

A urine sample showed arsenic levels of 117 micrograms per liter — more than double the threshold triggering a report to the state — and Hill was treated in an emergency room for “symptoms concerning for arsenic toxicity,” according to medical records she shared with POLITICO.

Hill is not alone: Several similarly ailing neighbors at the Jacob Riis Houses in Manhattan’s East Village, a sprawling complex run by the New York City Housing Authority, share her concern that their tap water is to blame.


That presents a problem for Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who declared the tap water at Riis Houses safe to drink in 2022, following another water contamination scare.