Exclusive: 1 year later, NYCHA's temporarily boiler still filling East Harlem apartments with tar-like substance; "They're literally killing us"

NYCHA boiler still filling East Harlem apartments with tar-like substance

NEW YORK -- Last September, CBS New York's Lisa Rozner covered health concerns in East Harlem over a mobile boiler put on the street by the New York City Housing Authority

NYCHA said the boiler would be removed within months, yet one year later, it's still there and residents say the problem has gotten worse. 

The same dark smoke fills the air outside the Metro North Plaza Houses on East 102nd Street between First and Second avenues, seeping into the apartments facing the street.

"I had asthma before I moved in here, but now it's even worse," East Harlem resident Maria Ramos told Rozner.

"The smoke is darker and it's more consistent," resident Marilyn Morales said. 

Morales, who lives across the street in Section 8 housing, showed Rozner the black, tar-liked substance on her windows and floors last year, and it's still present. 

She said management recently gave her the kind of cleaning supplies used after a fire. Last week, a public housing inspector found the apartment failed to meet air quality standards.

"They're literally killing us, and they claim that oh no, it's not dangerous. That's like me putting my head in the stove and smell the gas," she said. 

She said her grandchildren, who she watches regularly, have developed asthma, and she doesn't sleep in her bedroom because there's no air conditioning in there. 

"It's like my breathing changes, my anxiety changes... It's too much," she said. 

Resident Luisa Reyes told us in Spanish that nobody knows anything, and her electrical bill has tripled because she has to run AC all the time. Last year, doctors told her she has spots on her lungs, and she says she has no family history of that.

"She's basically thinking it's that because of her trouble breathing," said Morales. 

The "temporary" boiler has been there for nearly eight years. A NYCHA spokesperson told CBS New York, in part, "The agency is nearing completion of a $51 million project to construct a resilient heat and hot water plant... We are currently working with Con Edison to connect gas service," adding the agency expects it to be complete by the heating season.

Con Ed said it's waiting on NYCHA to turn on service. 

There are three permits -- one from the Department of Transportation and two from the Department of Buildings -- that have all expired. The most recent one ran out in April. 

The city did not get back to us about the expired permits, but after we pressed NYCHA, a spokesperson then said staff would be trained on using the new boiler system next week, adding, "The mobile boiler will remain on-site for a brief period as a back-up while we confirm that the new plant is fully operational."

A spokesperson for Phipps Housing, which manages the Section 8 housing across the street, said it's also been urging NYCHA to remove the boiler immediately. 

Residents wonder: Will NYCHA keep its word, so they can open their windows again?

The federal monitor that oversees NYCHA says they are aware of the problems that are a result of extensive damage to the heating systems from Superstorm Sandy. They added that temporary boilers are not a long-term solution, and they are focusing on making sure the much-needed improvements are made.

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