New FOIL data from NYCHA reveals borough distribution of asbestos tests

NYCHA produces over 400 GB of supplemental data in response to FOIL request


The New York City Housing Authority provided more information in response to an open records request filed by Progress Queens, revealing information about the distribution of asbestos tests of its properties across the City's boroughs.

One of the files produced by NYCHA was a .TXT file containing summaries of records related to what appeared to be asbestos tests. Progress Queens was able to convert the .TXT file into a .CSV file for analysis using the Python programming language.

According to Python analysis made possible by a module written by the publisher of Progress Queens, 13,010 records appeared on the .TXT file, and the records were asbestos-related, demonstrating that NYCHA was tracking the presence of asbestos across its properties. It was not possible to determine the precise range of dates over which the asbestos records were gathered or tested, because much information was missing from the .TXT file. Of the 13,010 asbestos records on the .TXT file, Python analysis indicated that 3,823 records were labeled positive for asbestos results. Negative asbestos results were indicated for 5,269 records, and no asbestos results were indicated for 3,918 asbestos records, according to Python analysis. The .TXT file only provided summaries of asbestos records ; no records of underlying tests were provided by NYCHA.

Asbestos is a fibrous material once used in construction materials for its attractive properties, such as resistance to heat and fire. Its use has been discontinued due to bans enacted after prolonged exposure to asbestos, primarily due to inhalation of fibers, was shown to be linked to lung cancer and other diseases, such as mesothelioma.

Examples of building components tested for asbestos by NYCHA included plaster, linoleum, insulation, caulking, and concrete. Examples of building items and fixtures that contained the building components included pumps, tanks, ceilings, walls, and window openings.

Using the Python programming language, Progress Queens reviewed the data for asbestos and calculated and compared the distribution of the records of positive asbestos results across the City's boroughs against the total number of asbestos records across the City's boroughs. The Bronx led the City for most number of nominal positive asbestos results, at 1,184, from a total of 3,790 total asbestos records that corresponded to the Bronx. No asbestos records were reported for Staten Island, according to the data in the .TXT file of asbestos data, a further sign that the data in the asbestos-related .TXT file could be considered incomplete.

Due to a lack of information, there was no way to identify, from the information on the asbestos-related .TXT file, a more precise location of the building components that were tested for asbestos, aside from identifying the borough of NYCHA's property that corresponded with the asbestos records. In past reviews of data files produced by NYCHA, Progress Queens was able to use a look-up table to identify the names of the public housing developments that corresponded with NYCHA's data files of its maintenance records. But the success of using that look-up table depended on there being sufficient information in the data file produced by NYCHA that would allow for the cross-referencing of information to identify public housing developments. In the .TXT file of asbestos-related records, there was no similar information that would allow for the use of the look-up table.

The appearance of a lack of complete information about asbestos indicates that NYCHA may not be tracking or reporting all of the issues that may affect the physical condition standards of its public housing developments. The information being provided to Progress Queens by NYCHA in response to the open records requests correspond with records and information produced by NYCHA to the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district. Although the larger files may contain more information about NYCHA's management of its physical assets, because the .TXT file of asbestos records was produced to Progress Queens, it may represent information that NYCHA has also produced to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

NYCHA is reportedly being investigated by Federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the physical condition standards of its public housing developments.

In the past, the U.S. Attorney's Office has denied a request made by Progress Queens to interview the Assistant U.S. Attorneys leading the reported Federal investigation of NYCHA. Separately, representatives from NYCHA have ceased answering requests for interviews and information made by Progress Queens.

Reference Document

A note on NYCHA's supplemental FOIL response

NYCHA produced over 400 GB of data to Progress Queens, and the information, delivered on an external hard drive, was received on Friday. All of the data was in the form of .TXT files, and many of the files were consistently larger than 10 GB, making it difficult to open, much less to read, the larger data files. One .TXT file measured over 200 GB in size.

Included in the FOIL response was a recommendation made by NYCHA that the data could be accessed using the Delimit application. However, that software system is not supported for Apple Mac computers, the system used by Progress Queens. The presentation of the .TXT files produced by NYCHA was indicative that it may also use a software application named Maximo, made by IBM, to manage its physical assets.

Progress Queens has made a request to a Cloud-based service provider for access to technology to allow Progress Queens to open the larger text files.