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Officials: Test results come back negative for arsenic at Jacob Riis Houses, but positive for traces of Legionnaires' disease bacteria

Traces of Legionella detected in Jacob Riis Houses water
Traces of Legionella detected in Jacob Riis Houses water 02:09

NEW YORK - New York City officials are working to determine if water test results from the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village revealing traces of the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease are accurate.

This comes just days after traces of arsenic were discovered at the NYCHA housing complex.

Residents told CBS2's Thalia Perez they want answers.

Officials say more than 100 tests of the water have been done at the Jacob Riis Houses since Friday, and no traces of arsenic were found.

A new statement issued early Thursday said, in part, "All original water delivery points that were previously thought to test positive for arsenic have been retested and found to be negative."

But the same lab that initially found arsenic in the water also found traces of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease.

"Out of an overabundance of cautious, caution, we continue to give water. We're going to do the test to make sure before we tell residents to drink water again that comes from their tap," Mayor Eric Adams said.

City officials say they have found no reported or confirmed cases of Legionella at the Jacob Riis Houses over the last 12 months.

The mayor is promising more testing.

"We're going to be thorough and make sure we do it right, and as we get information ... we're going to immediately let it be known," he said.

Still, around 3,000 residents are being impacted. Free water is being distributed in the complex, and community-based organizations have donated free meals, but some residents say it's not enough.

"They gotta fix it. Because we don't know if we're gonna get sick. We also don't know how long we've had this problem," said Carmen Jones, who has lived in the complex for 49 years.

Some residents are even calling for independent testing of the water.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera spoke with neighbors outside the complex Thursday.

"There are a lot of questions still, and what I just want to remind the city and remind the mayor is that this is about human decency. This is about getting people answers," she said.

Rivera also says a public meeting is planned at P.S. 34 for 6 p.m. Friday, where hopefully residents can get some answers from the city agencies that have been invited to attend.

The Adams administration believes faulty testing is to blame for the positive results.

See the full statement from the mayor's office: 

We continue to receive encouraging results from water tests at Riis Houses. All original water delivery points that were previously thought to test positive for arsenic have been retested and found to be negative. We have now also received results from the approximately 140 additional sites, both at the source and at the point of delivery, and can conclude based on these test results that there is no discernable amount of arsenic in the water at Riis Houses.

We also received new, belated results, late today, from the initial vendor that was found to have provided questionable results, suggesting the possible presence of Legionella bacteria, but we suspect these results are inaccurate. Legionella cannot be spread through drinking water. Additionally, we are actively reviewing our Legionella surveillance data and have found no reported or confirmed cases of Legionella at Riis Houses over the last 12 months.

We have been and will continue to be transparent about the information we receive every day, as the health and safety of residents remain our top priorities. We are continuing to approach the situation with an extreme level of care, and that is why we have flushed the water in the complex and are continuing to wait on additional test results that we initiated with a new vendor. We want to fully analyze all test results before making any recommendations. Out of an abundance of caution, we are continuing to ask Riis Houses residents not to drink or cook with the water in their buildings until all test results are returned. In the meantime, we are continuing to provide clean water for anyone who needs it.

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