Protect Our Water

The role of water on Long Island cannot be overstated.  While all of us depend on clean drinking water, on Long Island we are blessed with beautiful coastlines that provide a way of making a living and recreation for our residents, as well as income from the tourist industry.  It should go without saying that all our elected officials should be actively engaged and committed to protecting our water. 

It is essential to understand the interplay between rising sea levels, the role of the coastal wetlands in guarding our shores, the excess nitrogen causing algae blooms in both inland water bodies and off shore, the chemical pollution of our drinking water, and the rising water table causing flooding in so many residential areas.   

A. Sewers

People hailing from other parts of the country are astounded that approximately 75% of our residences do not have sewers, all while the water beneath Long Island is our sole source of drinking water. Yet, it remains extremely difficult to build a campaign about how essential it is to construct a sewer system on Long Island except that's exactly what we need to do.  For the first time since the debacle of the Southwest Sewer District in the late 1970's there is exciting news on this front.  Right now there is pending sewer development in Kings Park, in St. James dry sewer construction is expected to start in summer 2019, and a recent public referendum approved sewers in certain parts of the south shore.  To continue and spread this process requires the collaboration of all the members of the Suffolk County Legislature.  Furthering the interests of our own legislative district requires a recognition that we are all part of a bigger picture.

B.  Nitrogen

One of the main sources of nitrogen contamination of our soil, which then trickles down to our aquifer, is raw sewage in cesspools. A recent program advocated by our County Executive Steve Bellone, and approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, environmental advocates and the building trades, banned the installation of replacement cesspools without a septic tank process to treat nitrogen.

Nitrogen fertilizers, often applied in large and unregulated quantities, add to run off both into storm drains and directly into ponds, lakes, and into the ocean and LI Sound.  This must be addressed.  

C. Protecting and filtering our water to reduce or eliminate chemical contamination

Long Islanders must be concerned about PFC contamination.  According to the Citizens Campaign, there is no enforceable drinking water standard for PFCs (poly fluorinated chemicals) widely used to make water, grease and stain repellent coating - items like waterproofing treatments on leather, shoes, rainwear, non-stick carry out food containers, fireproof coatings on carpet and the old standby Teflon (which disappeared from the market in 2015).  The biggest source of this contamination is from firefighting foams used to fight fuel related fires.  This chemical enters our water supplies, causing cancers, thyroid problems, insulin problems and a host of other issues.  The Campaign is seeking funding from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to evaluate drinking wells, and to establish a health based drinking water standard. As per Newsday, February 20, 2019, this type of contamination was recently found within a short distance of the Islip MacArthur Airport.

 According to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (see citizenscampaign.org) over the past several years 1,4-Dioxane has been found to be a major hidden carcinogen to which we are all exposed.  It does not stick to soil particles so there is nothing to stop this chemical from moving into the groundwater. Like plastic bags, this chemical is stable and therefore is not biodegradable. It is not removed from the water by conventional sewage treatment plants or septic systems.  Seventy-two percent of Long Island water suppliers identified levels exceeding the EPA Cancer Risk Guideline, including both the Smithtown and St. James water supplies. Currently there is no national drinking water standard for 1,4-Dioxane. 

1,4-Dioxane is a hidden carcinogen.  This chemical is not an additive but a by-product of manufacturing personal care products using a process called ethoxylation.   There is no requirement to include 1,4-Dioxane on product labels. Product manufacturers could remove this carcinogen from products, but without a requirement to do so few are voluntarily acting to protect our community.

The chemical is found in many brand name laundry detergents, deodorants, toothpastes, mouthwashes, shampoos, bubble baths, shower gels and washes, bar soaps and makeup.  Many websites provide information to help avoid this compound. Because I don't want to disparage specific brands I am not providing any lists.  Read labels.  Avoid a product if the small print list of ingredients includes:

•           Sodium laureth sulfate

•           PEG compounds followed by a number

•           Chemicals that end in "eth" (that denotes ethoxylation) like cetareth and oleth.

Not only is this by-product destroying our water supply, it is a real cancer causing agent to the user of the product.

In February, 2019 Newsday reported  that the State will, together with the efforts of the Suffolk County Water Authority, be investing in an effort to treat 1,4-Dioxane.  The SCWA will be creating an Advanced Oxidation Process which will begin removing the contaminant from the water that flows into the Commercial Boulevard, Central Islip pump station.  The system will be the first of its kind in NYS, and it is expected to remove 97% of the detected 1,4-Dioxane from groundwater.  This is an amazing first step but there is still a long way to go to address the need to process all the water that flows through pump stations everywhere.

On February 18, 2019 Newsday reported that according to the Long Island Water Conference, a coalition of more than 50 water suppliers and representatives, the cost of cleaning up the already contaminated wells could be approximately $840,000,000, plus the cost of annual maintenance.  This could cause water rates to double.  So, why treat?  Based on the most common trend of rising costs, delaying the decision to start treating means the cost to us will be even higher--both in potential health issues from contaminated water, and in the actual cost of water treatment. Quoted in the Newsday article on page A3, Judith Enck, a former EPA official suggested that delay would be "wildly irresponsible."

Not currently the source of new contamination, but of great continuing concern, are the toxic underground plumes which have spread in every location where Grumman and the Navy dumped chemicals.While the biggest plume is located in the Bethpage area, there are additional locations where private wells have demonstrated evidence of contamination stemming from this dumping. While the U.S Navy has acknowledged responsibility for the problem, they have done little to remedy the situation and what little they are proposing to do will not prevent the plume from spreading underneath our Island, and eventually to the ocean.The toxic plume will have a permanent impact on all of us.At the end of 2017, Gov. Cuomo, tired of waiting, pledged NYS involvement to actually stop the spread of the plume.This is a monumental undertaking and who knows if thereever will be federal reimbursement for these efforts. The cost is estimated at $150 million.

D.  Protecting the coastline for Huntington, Smithtown and north shore towns to the east

And as if the above issues aren't enough, the recent plan being explored by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect NYC from the impact of another super storm could aggravate every one of these problems, and thus be a disaster for Long Island.  Under the name New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Feasibility Study, they are considering barriers that would protect New York City from increases in flooding from storms.  The Corps of Engineers is not even investigating the impact of those flood gates on most communities adjacent to Long Island Sound. 

Based upon previous reports sea levels could rise an additional two feet above high tide during storms.  Aside from forever changing the fragile coast lines in Huntington and Smithtown, and the immediate flooding facing homeowners, such gates would cause the destruction of the coastal habitats for birds and fish, substantially increase the influx of salt water where there should be fresh water, and could result in a permanent rise of our water table throughout the north shore of Long Island. The rise in the water table has the potential to make uninhabitable hundreds, perhaps thousands of homes.  The harm is almost beyond imagining.                                      

The Army Corps of Engineers is holding hearings, but in only in the communities immediately adjacent to their proposed flood gates.  We should all be involved in the assessment of the risks.

Suffolk County should be coordinating efforts with Nassau County and Westchester County to encourage involvement by the State Legislature.  The aquifer under Long Island is our only source of water and if we don't speak up, our interests will be swept aside.  The New York City protections currently being proposed are unacceptable.