NBC News 4 New York I-Team: Are Smoke Breaks Turning NYC Skyscraper Project Into a 'High' Rise? by Chris Glorioso

NBC News 4 New York
I-Team: Are Smoke Breaks Turning NYC Skyscraper Project Into a 'High' Rise?
Chris Glorioso
Evan Stulberger
Michael Aquilia
Erica Jorgensen
Kristina Pavlovic

A New York City condominium project is being watched closely by building inspectors after an I-Team investigation revealed more than a dozen construction workers smoking what looked and smelled like marijuana – and then heading back to work alongside heavy machinery.

Over the course of three weeks, I-Team producers confirmed the scent of pot at the same time cameras captured construction workers puffing on what looked like hand-rolled marijuana joints on the Upper East Side. The smoke breaks mostly took place inside a small public park, about a two minute walk from the site of the future skyscraper, 180 East 88th Street.

Immediately after the workers smoked in the park, I-Team cameras rolled as the very same laborers walked back onto a high rise construction site.

The pattern of apparent drug use by construction workers comes to light just a week after Mayor de Blasio signed into a law a construction safety bill that did not include mandatory drug testing, despite a push from non-union contractors to require drug testing on job sites.

When the East 88th Street project is complete, the building is slated to be the tallest residential tower north of 72nd Street, with luxury condo prices currently starting at more than $3 million.

DDG, the skyscraper developer, declined to answer questions or view video of the apparent drug use by laborers working on the tower. A public relations firm hired by DDG said in a statement, "We have a zero tolerance policy and take this situation very seriously. Safety is our number one priority and we are committed to enforcing the highest standards."

But some workers on the job site did not appear to share that same zeal for safety.

The I-Team interviewed one construction worker, who declined to give his name, but openly defended smoking pot and working on a high rise construction site.

"You’re talking to somebody who smokes for a couple years," he said.  "I’m not a rookie at this."

When asked about how high up he works on the condo tower, the unnamed worker paused.

"Are you asking me how high I am? Or how high up there?" he said.

NYC Council Member Ben Kallos (D – Upper East Side) said it is difficult to understand how DDG safety managers could be unaware of the smoke breaks, given how blatant some laborers were about their pot smoking.

"It’s pretty hard to believe that a developer would have workers go literally across the street, smoke up, and then come back to the site and then deny that they know what is going on," Kallos said. "That’s a problem."

Mark Peters, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Investigation, has investigated substance abuse on other construction sites. He told the I-Team it is often up to a site safety monitor, hired by the contractor, to ferret out drug use and other dangerous behavior before it threatens the public or other workers.

"If you are a construction manager or a site safety manager and you see this conduct going on and you look the other way and somebody gets hurt, you run the risk of getting arrested for that," Peters said.

He also urged New Yorkers to call DOI or the Department of Buildings if they suspect drug or alcohol consumption by construction workers.

After the I-Team alerted regulators to the apparent drug use, inspectors from the NYC Department of Buildings and OSHA visited the condo project.

"We did see several safety lapses for which we issued violations and a partial stop-work order," said Joseph Soldevere, a Buildings Department spokesman.

The city inspectors did not find workers smoking pot, but they did find a series of safety problems including poor housekeeping, missing roof protections, and improper safety netting.

When asked if those safety and housekeeping lapses could be related to impaired workers, DDG did not respond.