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Some southeast Queens residents have fallen prey to people posing as city water inspectors seeking access to their homes to test water samples, the city Department of Environmental Protection said.
Over the last few weeks, impostors identifying themselves as employees of the "water department" have been knocking on doors across the southeast Queens area, requesting samples of tap water, the DEP said.
"Complainants from Cambria Heights, Rosedale, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans and Queens Village have reported that the individuals identified themselves as being from DEP or the water department," said DEP Commissioner Christopher Ward in a statement. "These people are not employees of DEP or its contractors."
DEP could not be reached for comment, but it was believed that the impostors were trying to sell high-priced water filter systems after taking samples of residents' tap water.
The tests play into fears about well contamination that the community has been dealing with for decades. The area wells were part of the old Jamaica Water Supply system, which sold its pumps to the city in the mid-1990s.
When the city bought the wells, many of them were shut down due to a lack of maintenance, but some - such as those near the West Side Corp. site on 180th Street in Jamaica - were closed because of contamination. The West Side site housed a factory where dry cleaning chemicals were stored, and perchloroethylene, or PERC, and methyl tert-butyl ether, a gasoline additive known as MTBE, leaked into the soil and the water supply.
The DEP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are collaborating on a $10 million project to clean the groundwater and soil at the West Side site. The agencies have repeatedly assured residents that the water will not be added to the drinking supply until it passes state Department of Health standards, which in the case of the West Side wells, could take several more years.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) are also organizing volunteers to conduct a door-to-door survey to chart the rate of cancer in the Jamaica area, which many community members believe could be tied to the water problems.
Ward warned area residents that only people bearing photo identification cards and badges issued by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection are employees authorized to inspect water quality and meters.
"We have outlined precautions that citizens should take to protect themselves from impostors who claim they need to inspect water quality, water meters or plumbing equipment," Ward said.
Most DEP inspectors also wear uniforms, and no employee is ever authorized to ask for cash to perform services, or for payment of bills, Ward said.
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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