New York City is known for its iconic skyline, but what’s on top of those buildings should be a cause for concern – the water towers. Water towers are essential for providing the city with drinking water, but unknown to most, they are a major health hazard.
Shockingly, there are regulations in place for maintaining these towers, but according to the New York Times, they are rarely enforced. They are often left neglected and unsanitary.
by David Stone
Internal alarms went off when I asked my building manager about our water tower cleaning practices. Our complex included five 21-story buildings, and water piped in from upstate reached no higher than the 6th floor. Pumps must push vital supplies up to the roof into wood or metal tanks. From there, gravity supplies taps below.
“We don’t have any water towers,” he said, although they are plainly visible from the street. He then insisted that the city supplies were sufficient. They aren’t, and if a longtime manager doesn’t know, what are the chances that best practices for public health prevail?
“…a bill mandating, for the first time, that building owners make inspection records available to tenants, and to post proof of the inspections in prominent places. It also, for the first time, required that tank water be tested for contamination once a year.”Inside City Water Tanks, Layers of Neglect -New York Times
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen proof of inspection in any New York City building.
The Trouble With Water Towers
What is a water tower?
It’s a large container that stores drinking water on the tops of buildings before distribution to tenants.
Unfortunately, they become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria such as Legionella, which causes a deadly form of pneumonia. Bacteria thrive in stagnant water. Estimates are that over half of New York City’s towers contain Legionella bacteria, a truly alarming figure.
And there’s also a potentially deadly lack of accountability and regulation. Almost no one, in actual practice, is responsible for ensuring that water towers are clean and in good condition. So, many are neglected and unsanitary.
Recorded instances tell of water towers left for years without being cleaned, resulting in residents drinking contaminated water. This lack of accountability is unacceptable and puts New Yorkers at risk. But enforcement is spotty at best.
The spotty maintenance arises from a larger issue. That is, property owners prioritize making profits over the welfare of their tenants.
Ensuring that water towers are regularly tested and maintained costs money, and ignoring the issue is simply more cost-effective.
It’s also not mandatory for landlords to disclose the condition of their water towers to potential tenants or buyers. As a result, renters and buyers are not fully aware of what they’re getting into.
Finally, water towers are a particular danger to the elderly, the sick and those with weakened immune systems.
These groups are more susceptible to waterborne illnesses when exposed to higher levels of bacteria. Considering that New York City is one of the most populous cities in the world, it’s clear that more needs to be done to protect residents from this potential health hazard.
There’s a dire need for increased accountability and regulations to address the issues surrounding New York City’s water towers. Tenant health and safety should always be a top priority, and it’s unacceptable that property owners are prioritizing profits over the well-being of residents.
Everyone deserves access to clean drinking water, and it’s critical that lawmakers act now to implement changes that will ensure New Yorkers’ safety. The potential health dangers associated with neglected water towers cannot be ignored.