Constantinides, Levine, Torres Introduce Bill for Inspections of Drinking Water Tanks

New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides. Photo: New York City Council

NEW YORK – New York City Council Members Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection; Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Health; and Ritchie Torres, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigation, introduced legislation on August 8 in partnership with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. that requires the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to conduct unannounced inspections of drinking water tanks atop buildings.

“New Yorkers should not have to worry about harmful bacteria in the water they drink,” said Council Member Constantinides. “Unfortunately, landlords are misrepresenting the condition of the water stored inside tanks for many buildings. This legislation will provide the necessary oversight to ensure our residents, especially those in low-income housing, are healthy.”

Council Health Chair Mark Levine said, “It is in the public health and environmental interests of this City that New Yorkers have the confidence of knowing that when they turn on the tap, the water that comes out will be free of contamination and safe to drink. No one should have to question the quality of their drinking water–especially not NYCHA residents facing challenges on so many other fronts. As this bill strengthens the rules for inspection of water tanks, it will provide for a higher level of real time transparency.”

“The recent news reports of contaminated water tanks that are rarely inspected and unregulated have made it clear that the City and the Health Department must intervene. Requiring unannounced inspections will ensure that water tanks aren’t hastily fixed in a pinch, will protect public health and safety, and ensure that drinking water is safe to consume,” said Council Member Torres.

“Our City has seen devastating outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease in recent years, and these water tanks tend to be breeding grounds for this disease and other harmful bacteria. New Yorkers deserve safe drinking water, and they deserve to know that their own water tanks have been inspected and just what that inspection found. This legislation will help do just that, and I am proud to partner with Council Members Constantinides, Levine, and Torres to move this critical public health and safety legislation forward,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Tanks are typically made from cedar and used to feed water to buildings taller than six stories. More than 10,000 buildings in the five boroughs rely on water tanks, according to City estimates. Until about a decade ago, these tanks were essentially unregulated to ensure they complied with various City codes.

Monitoring our water systems, either tanks that hold drinkable water or cooling towers, is crucial as New York endures yet more outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, a form of pneumonia caused by contaminated water particles. Health officials recently found traces of Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, in the water supply at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Harmful materials found in drinking water tanks at several New York City Housing Authority properties were not included on reports to the DOHMH, according to a recent City & State article.

Intro. 657-A of 2017 required landlords to submit annual tank inspection reports to show they complied with all New York City administrative, construction, and health codes. The DOHMH received those reports, which are then supposed go into an online open data portal.

Unfortunately, a City & State report in May found many inspections are done after the tank is scrubbed of sediments or harmful materials such as dead pigeons, squirrels, and roaches. While doing so is legal under the existing laws, it deprives the City of a full picture of what New Yorkers might be drinking on the average day. Samples from tanks atop several municipal buildings also showed signs of E. Coli, used to determine if the water contains potentially harmful bacteria.

The new bill, which was formally introduced to the City Council on August 8, would require spot checks of water tanks conducted by DOHMH without the building owner’s prior knowledge. The legislation would also cover both private buildings as well as public ones, including NYCHA properties, which experts told City & State last week had some of the worst materials. This will give a clearer picture of what types of materials are in the tanks, which will then be posted online in a public database.

Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on four additional committees: Parks, Transportation, For-Hire Vehicles, and Land Use, as well as the sub-committee on Zoning and Franchises. For more information, visit council.nyc.gov/costa.

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