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Long Island’s Drinking Water Found to be Most Contaminated in State

NYPIRG Releases Report on Statewide Contamination

During the week of Memorial Day, the New York Public Interest Research Group announced findings that were, perhaps, unsurprising to many Long Islanders. A study conducted on emerging contaminants throughout New York State found that Long Island has the highest concentration of dangerous chemicals in the state.

Using data collected between 2013 and 2016, the report’s primary conclusion was that one or more emerging contaminants are currently a direct threat to the drinking water supplies of 16 million New Yorkers. For Long Island, a total of 19 emerging contaminants were found to exist, including strontium, chlorate and chromium-6 and 1,4-dioxane, both likely carcinogens. Nassau County had the greatest share of contaminated areas on the island.

For those unfamiliar with “emerging contaminants”, these compounds are either only recently known, only recently detectable with available science or previously had not been present. Most frequently, emerging contaminants originate from industry, including spills and the disposal of wastewater or from personal care products. The emerging contaminant Long Islanders are likely most familiar with is 1,4-dioxane. It is believed that Long Island has the greatest concentrations of 1,4-dioxane in the entire country as a result of the past presence of the chemical in paints, primers and inks. Today, an estimated 46 percent of personal care products are found to have 1,4-dioxane present. 1,4-dioxane is known as a Synthetic Organic Compound as it is not a naturally occurring substance.

While this report certainly confirmed many Long Islanders’ fears on the declining quality of the island’s drinking water, it is important to note that most communities on Long Island do not have contaminated water. As Stony Brook Professor and Partnership member Dr. Christopher Gobler noted while speaking to Newsday, however, “It's a misnomer to lump all of Long Island's drinking water into a single category. If you were to do an honest comparison of the data for the water that Long Islanders drink, you'll find plenty of supplies that compare favorably with New York City." The most notable area of pure drinking water on Long Island is the Long Island Pine Barrens.

Overall, this report provides a drastic call to action for Long Islanders to join in the work of reversing the trend of declining water quality. Without continued efforts to improve the island’s environment, daily life in many communities will be irreparably changed forever. All life depends on clean and safe drinking water. We must make our efforts worthy of this fact.

For those interested in reading the NYPIRG’s full report, please visit nypirg.org. For more information on ways you can help save Long Island’s drinking water, check out our Take Action page. 

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Filtering Foods That Clean Up Our Waters

An increased need for innovative measures

Water quality has an impact on our environment, health, and economy. As every major bay, estuary, and harbor on Long Island is at risk, scientists have been working to determine new ways that can help address what continues to grow as a local and national crisis. For years, oysters have been thought of as a possible solution in some areas to help clean up our waters. But, these filter feeding bivalves, which have a tremendous benefit to the local economy, have also fallen victim to worsening water quality. Experimenting with a new aquaculture crop, Stony Brook University researchers and local farmers are beginning to harvest sugar kelp that had been planted in Moriches Bay this past winter and testing the waters for results.

Great Gun Shellfish Company owner Paul McCormick is an oyster farmer by trade whose farm filters millions of gallons of water daily. What he and researchers are looking into is if cultivating sugar kelp will help with oyster growing as well as filtering the estuary. This also offers the potential for oyster farmers to diversify their crop as it is a trending food source.

In a recent Newsday story, Dr. Chris Gobler said “cultivating the native seaweed also has environmental benefits. The crop sequesters nitrogen and phosphorous, and also captures carbon dioxide. Higher levels of carbon dioxide can lead to the acidification of waters, which can harm shellfish production. ‘We think the aquaculture of seaweeds represents another important tool for improving water quality on Long Island,’ he said. About 3 percent of the kelp is nitrogen.”

Looking into new aquaculture farming methods is just one of many ways people are working to slow the trend of nitrogen pollution and toxic algae blooms in Long Island’s water. Alternative wastewater treatment systems and Reclaim Our Waters' septic improvement program incentives can help fund these replacements for homeowners. Proposals for groundwater monitoring laws for mines is another way environmentalists, scientists, civic groups, and the public are taking action. You can help, too! Making simple changes at home, contacting elected officials, and joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership can have a positive impact. Become a member today!

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Long Island Waters Off to Bad Start Ahead of Summer Season

This week, two waterbodies were closed to shellfishing after high levels of saxitoxin were detected in shellfish that had been harvested by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The two closures included: Meetinghouse Creek/Terry Creek in Riverhead and Northport Harbor/Steers Canal in Northport.

Saxitoxin is a neurotoxin that is 1,000-times more potent than cyanide and is made by the algae, Alexandrium. The overgrowth of this algae is fueled by nitrogen pollution. The dominant source of nitrogen pollution is human wastewater from septic systems and cesspools, but also from fertilizer use on lawns and farms. Nitrogen flows from our homes, into our underground drinking water aquifers, and then flows into our surface waters. Excess nitrogen fuels the growth of algae, producing large harmful algae blooms in our waters. Blooms of Alexandrium, also known as “red tides,” grow rapidly when fueled by nitrogen and synthesize high levels of saxitoxin.

Shellfish accumulate the toxin in their tissues and become contaminated – a threat to marine life and humans.  In 2015, hundreds of diamondback terrapin turtles washed up dead along the shores of Flanders Bay, after consuming saxitoxin-contaminated mussels. Humans that consume contaminated shellfish can develop paralytic shellfish-poisoning. Symptoms can range from tingling of the lips and tongue, to numbness of the face, neck and limbs, loss of muscular control, and difficulty breathing.  If you or anyone you know experiences these symptoms after eating shellfish, it should be treated as a medical emergency – call 911 or seek emergency care immediately.

Will these two events be indicative of what Long Island should expect this summer? Last summer, nearly every major waterbody across Long Island was impacted by a harmful algae bloom, oxygen-starved waters, or both.

Action by federal, state, county and local officials is needed now to reverse these trends.  We need stronger policies and standards to reduce the amount of sewage pollution entering our waters. We must improve, upgrade and modernize existing sewer and septic systems.

Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today to stay up-to-date on water quality-related news and to join us in our efforts to restore our water quality!

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Source: Dr. Chris Gobler, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences / Long Island Coastal Conservation Research Alliance

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Express Sessions: Water Quality

Examining water quality and how to protect it


Earlier this month, one of the founding member organizations of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership joined a panel for The Sag Harbor Express newspaper to discuss the state of our water quality. Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca was joined by representatives from Defend H2O, Concerned Citizens of Montauk, the Suffolk County Health Department, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals, and Suffolk Country Legislator Bridget Fleming for the Express Sessions.

Among the biggest threats to water quality according to experts were failing septic systems, polluted stormwater runoff, fertilizers, pesticides, and more. In last week’s paper, DeLuca is quoted as saying, “You have to protect these resources. They don’t protect themselves. This region suffers from death by a thousand cuts. We have a slow drip, drip, drip of contamination and pollution, whether from septics or development projects.”

One of the timelier topics that came up when talking about the largest threats to one of only nine Special Groundwater Protection Areas on Long Island, which is critically important to the future quality of the region's drinking water, and what lies beneath the Sand Land mine in Bridgehampton. Scientific evidence has found that the controversial and polluting mine has been significantly polluting the groundwater. Recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which had previously confirmed the findings and ordered mining activities to stop, entered into an agreement that grants the mine eight more years to operate. Members of the Partnership will continue to fight against this project and have begun taking steps to block the agreement

Other topics included the discussion of Long Island’s first brown tide in 1985, which has made headlines often in recent years, the use of methoprene spraying for mosquitos and its other biological impacts, and runoff associated with lawn care and landscaping activities. Audience members also shared their thoughts on the area’s water quality, including Noyac Civic Council president Elena Loreto, who passed around a petition to end the Sand Land mining permit.

Though informative and often grim, there is something that can be done to protect our water quality. Community action is essential. Making simple changes at home, contacting elected officials, and joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership can bring about positive change. Become a member today!

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Let's Clean Up Long Island's Waters This Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day! If you live on Long Island, you know our way of life is all about the water! Long Island is unique in that it is a sole source aquifer region, meaning that we rely on our underground groundwater aquifers as the sole source of our drinking water. Beaches, bays and harbors often set the scene for some of our favorite memories. Each Long Islander likely has a special memory tied to the water – a fun day on the beach with family, watching a beautiful sunset, or catching your first fish at a local pier. Long Island’s water also supports a multi-billion dollar regional economy that attracts visitors from around the world. Long Island is pretty amazing!

Unfortunately, our water quality has been declining throughout the years. Pollution from sewage, pesticides and toxic chemicals all threaten our waters. Fortunately, we can fix it. But action by local, county and state officials is needed right now. One thing’s for sure: the cost of fixing the water problem now will be far less than the cost of destroying Long Island’s drinking water and bays and harbors.

Just as there so many reasons to love Long Island’s waters, there are just as many reasons why we should all work to clean up Long Island’s waters.

We need to clean up Long Island’s waters to protect the sole source of our drinking water. 2.8 million Long Islanders rely on clean water to drink, bathe in and cook with.


We need to clean up and protect our water resources to ensure a healthy habitat for the countless plant and animal species that call Long Island home – many of which are endangered or threatened.


We need to work to address our water quality problems in order to restore our fisheries and our once-vibrant shellfishing industry.



We need to clean up Long Island’s waters to ensure a clean, healthy and beautiful environment for future generations.



On this Earth Day, join in on the every day effort to restore Long Island’s water quality – become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today! Tackling the issue of water quality is one of Long Island’s biggest environmental challenges. We need everyone to take notice and call for action.


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Photo: The Independent 

DEC Makes a Poor Decision on Sand Land

Water-polluting mine will operate for 8 more years

Despite scientific evidence of groundwater contamination and public outcry, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently entered into a reckless agreement that benefits some of the biggest culprits of worsening water quality on the East End. 

Under the terms of the settlement, the controversial and polluting sand mine known as “Sand Land” in Bridgehampton has been granted eight more years to operate. This long and drawn-out closure agreement was made in complete secrecy and without any input from the town of Southampton. the agreement is also contradictory to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) groundwater investigation, which showed significant groundwater contamination beneath the property and is at complete odds with virtually every water quality protection policy adopted over the last 30 years. If this agreement proceeds, it will set a dangerous precedent for Long Island’s sole-source aquifer, which supplies our drinking water, and is increasingly vulnerable to pollution.

Based on potential pollution concerns, SCDHS initiated a groundwater investigation at the Sand Land site, installing groundwater monitoring wells in May 2015. The investigation tested 21 monitoring wells in and around the site and found heavy metals including iron and manganese, as well as nitrates at concentrations significantly exceeding drinking water and standards in multiple wells. Manganese exceeded the standards by almost 100 times and iron by over 200 times. 
 
The SCDHS concluded that the vegetative waste management activities on the Sand Land site have had significant adverse impacts to the groundwater. Data from wells installed on the site suggest the presence of downward vertical groundwater flow component, indicating this is a vital groundwater protection area. This also suggests that contaminants released on the site may flow into deeper portions of the aquifer.
 
These conclusions, which were reviewed and signed-off on by the DEC, were made public in 2018. The DEC even ordered mining activities at Sand Land to stop. Though, Sand Land continued to operate
 
Founding members of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership have long fought alongside neighbors, environmentalists, and elected officials to shut down Sand Land. We will challenge the DEC’s decision and continue to fight for its closing. Our drinking water needs to be protected. You can help by joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today!

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Happy St. Patrick's Day - Green water isn't always fun!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We’re here to remind you that green water on days other than March 17th is probably a bad sign. Green water is usually a sign that a toxic blue-green algae bloom has developed within a waterbody. Last summer, 25 lakes and ponds across Long Island were afflicted with a toxic blue-green algae bloom. In fact, Suffolk County leads the entire state with the highest record number of lakes with blue-green algae, more than the other 61 counties in New York – not something to be proud of.

Blue-green algae grows in warm and nutrient-rich waters. On Long Island, nitrogen pollution is the main cause of these harmful algae blooms. Nitrogen pollution from sewage, most notably aging sewer and septic systems, flows from our drinking water aquifers into our surface waters, damaging salt marshes, causing harmful algae blooms, reducing fish and shellfish populations and closing our beaches.  Unfortunately, several different types of algae blooms occur during Long Island’s summer months, causing our waters to turn many different colors. However, blue-green algae blooms are among the most toxic. These blooms can produce toxins that are extremely harmful to people and pets. On several occasions in Suffolk County, dogs have died from playing in and consuming water from waterbodies contaminated with toxins produced by blue-green algae.

Be aware and stay informed as we gear up for another Long Island summer! If a waterbody is impaired by a blue-green algae bloom, there will often be signs warning beachgoers to stay out of the water. If there are no posted signs and the water looks like pea soup or like there has been a green paint spill on the water, avoid swimming, boating and recreating, and keep pets out of the water as well. Suspected blooms should be reported to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation by emailing HABsInfo@dec.ny.gov.

Fortunately, stronger policies and standards can reduce the amount of sewage pollution in our local waters. We can improve, upgrade and modernize existing sewer and septic systems. With the luck of the Irish, and action by local, county and state officials, we can protect and restore our water quality for our children and grandchildren. Become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership to stay updated on our campaign to restore our waters.

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Video Highlights from "Water We Going To Do?" 7th Annual Conference

Did you miss our annual conference? Check out the highlights!

Last October, the Long Island Clean Water Partnership held its seventh annual “Water We Going To Do?” Conference.  The conference informed Long Islanders about the progress made toward improving drinking and surface water quality, across Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Experts provided an update on the water quality improvement campaign's progress to date, highlighted success stories in other areas, discussed clean water projects currently happening on Long Island, and set the stage for what needs to happen in the next year. Speakers included government officials, scientists, business leaders and environmentalists.

More than 200 Long Islanders filled the room to hear the latest on the effort to restore the Island’s water quality. Did you miss it? No worries! You can catch highlights of the conference, which were featured on the Long Island Pine Barrens Society’s television program.

In part one of the coverage, you will hear from:

  • Ryan Wallace, from the Gobler Lab at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, with an overview of Long Island’s water quality impairments
  • Ty Fuller of the Suffolk County Water Authority, on emerging contaminants appearing in Long Island’s waters, their associated treatment methods and their costs
  • Chris Schubert of the United States Geological Survey, on Long Island groundwater sustainability
  • Mary Anne Taylor of CDM Smith and consultant for Suffolk County, with an update on Suffolk County’s subwatershed mapping
  • Suffolk County Officials Peter Scully and Justin Jobin, on the status of the County’s septic replacement program



In part two of the coverage, you will hear from:

  • Keynote speaker, Dr. Christopher Patrick from Texas A&M University, on the successes of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Program and how they can be applied to Long Island
  • Researchers from Stony Brook’s Center for Clean Water Technology, Molly Graffam & Samantha Roberts, with an update on new nitrogen-removing technology that is being researched at the institute
  • James Tierney of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and John Cameron of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, on the status of the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan
  • Brian Schneider on Nassau County’s water initiatives
  • Mary Wilson from Southampton Town, on the success of the town’s Community Preservation Fund water improvement program

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Monitoring Sand Mines for the Sake of Our Health

 Stop groundwater contamination at the source

As emerging contaminants and sources of pollution in Long Island’s groundwater continue to be identified, the need for action to protect and clean up drinking water supplies is stronger than ever. Within the past several years, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation have documented significant groundwater contamination and risks of contamination associated with activities at sand mines and vegetative waste processing facilities. Now, we are urging local governments to act and establish local laws that will improve groundwater monitoring and hold these facilities accountable.

Elected officials have already taken action in response to this emerging contamination source. Last year, Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle passed legislation signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo that will now allow local governments to impose groundwater monitoring requirements on state-regulated sand mines and mine reclamation. This is a crucial step in the right direction as contamination from facilities, like the “Sand Land” mine in Southampton, have raised significant public health and environmental concerns. 

As part of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership founding members’ ongoing work to protect and restore the health of our ground and surface waters, we are urging local governments across the East End of Long Island to adopt and enforce local laws that would that would require monitoring of groundwater quality beneath active mines or mine reclamation activities. 

It is our drinking water, environment, and health at risk. Residents in the towns of East Hampton and Southampton can help by asking their elected town boards to establish these laws to protect their health and the environment. These actions will inspire other towns across Long Island to take notice and take action with other facilities contributing to similar contamination. Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today!

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Sewer Projects Approved in Babylon and Mastic

Supporting water quality improvement projects

This January, voters in Babylon and Mastic flocked to the polls to vote on important issues, including clean water. On the ballot was a referendum for two sewer projects that will cover 6,500 homes, making this Suffolk County’s largest expansion since the 1970s. Understanding the value of investing in water quality improvement, 77% of voters said yes!

$388 million in federal and state grants will be used to hook up homes in Babylon and Mastic to sewers and remove other sewage from our waters. These projects will improve residential quality of life while also helping to protect two of Long Island’s most fragile rivers – Carlls River and Forge River. Learn more about these two ecologically important rivers and why they need our protection here

By approving these projects, voters made a strong showing of how important water quality is to them and Long Island. Voting in favor of this referendum makes these projects the largest action to protect local water in more than 40 years! Long Islanders’ commitment to protect and restore water quality will set an example for future efforts to invest in Long Island’s water. 

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership was proud to endorse these efforts in Babylon and Mastic. This is just the beginning. You can help support opportunities for clean water investments by joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership and by urging elected officials to support additional investments in waste water technology across Long Island. Thank you for joining us in the fight to protect and restore Long Island’s water.

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