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Just what’s in that water tank?

In New York City, rooftop water tanks are as iconic as yellow taxi cabs and the Brooklyn Bridge. But according to a lengthy article in City and State from May of this year, “new data reveals widespread neglect in the thousands of weathered wooden water tanks that supply drinking water to millions of New York City residents.”

Openings for potential pathogens

Just what kind of neglect did they uncover? Well, as the tanks endure the elements—wind, rain, snow and sun—the structures begin to fall apart. As a result, cracks open and allow debris to enter the tanks. The debris then contributes to a sludgy, murky sediment at the bottom of the tanks. Additionally, the city’s other residents, like pigeons and rodents, sometimes claim the tanks as home. In the article, a water tank worker named Jonathan Lewin says that he finds a pigeon in about “1 in 50” of the tanks he cleans. The presence of birds and animals can potentially carry pathogens, through cysts, into the water.

Water tanks supply the upper floors

The city estimates there are over 10,000 buildings with water tanks in the five boroughs. Typically water flows to the lower floors of a building through a pump system, but the water pressure is only strong enough to reach the first six stories. Water tanks became common in the 19th century as a way to hold drinking water for people living on the higher floors.

Inspections don’t tell the whole story

City officials insist the drinking water in the tanks is safe. However, the city only started requiring building owners to test their water tanks in 2009. Further, as of 2015, fewer than half of the estimated building owners in the city reported water tank inspections. There’s also a common practice where they run the inspection after the tank is cleaned or disinfected. This is fine to ensure that the cleaning worked, but it doesn’t tell residents anything about the quality of their water beforehand.

It’s often said that New York City tap water is some of the best in the world. But the municipal system stops at the curb. It’s the building owner’s job to bring the water from the street into each residence. As the City and State exposé shows, many owners are negligent in this responsibility. To protect yourself and your family, install the Coway Aquamega 100 triple-filtering system in your home. It filters drinking water right at the kitchen faucet, reducing contaminants by up to 99.9%. The water tastes delicious, too.