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The Emerging Culprit: PFAS

The Emerging Culprit: PFAS

Man-made chemicals polluting Long Island waters

Studies finding man-made chemicals in some drinking water supplies on Long Island have been making headlines recently across Long Island. Unfortunately, it appears that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sought to block the release of the study, which shows perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) may be more dangerous than previously thought. In response to this, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand recently called on federal regulators to release the study, citing this information that is vital to protecting public health.

These man-made chemicals (often associated with fire-fighting foams, stain and water-repellants, along with some paints, polishes and waxes) represent a new threat to our already fragile drinking water supply. Contamination starts on the surface, working its way into the ground and into our drinking water supply. Studies have continually shown the detrimental impacts of PFAS to Long Island water, and further studies are being conducted to better understand the health effects of these contaminants. Sadly, PFAS have also been found in humans, wildlife, and fish, and the EPA now considers these chemicals to be a likely human carcinogen. In a Newsday article published this week, Senator Schumer shared this statement:

I am deeply disturbed by reports that the Trump administration and top EPA officials are blocking a report vital to protect public health. The people of Long Island and beyond need and deserve to know just how harmful PFAS and PFOA, like those on the East End and around Gabreski (Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach), are to the body.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we cannot rely on federal agencies like the EPA to be responsive to the environmental health needs of our local communities here on Long Island. We need more support from local and State governments to protect our drinking water! Tell your legislators to join Senators Schumer and Gillibrand in urging the EPA to release the PFAS study and to take a stand for clean water by protecting what we have. Tell them the need to clean up polluted drinking water, advocate for change, and invest in the long-term health of our bays, harbors, and other waterways. You can get involved by joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today!

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Protecting Long Island’s Water for Future Generations

In recognition of Mother’s Day, we’re sharing a story of a Shelter Island Mom who is raising the next generation of environmental stewards.

Lora, who grew up on Shelter Island and whose Mom worked at the Mashomack Preserve, developed a love for the natural world at a young age. Now, as she raises her own kids on Shelter Island, she works to make sure that they develop that same connection to nature and grow up to be good stewards of the earth.

Lora feels that it is important to get her kids outside and away from the many indoor distractions.  Her family spends a lot of time on the water – they go swimming, paddleboarding, explore the salt marsh, look for crabs, and go snapper-fishing at the end of the summer.  She is also a Girl Scouts Leader and leads an Island-wide beach cleanup.

“Shelter Island is just like the rest of Long Island – we have our aquifer as our source of drinking water and that’s it.”
Lora worries about the serious water quality issues that are plaguing Long Island – problems like harmful algae blooms and fish kills, that are caused by the excess nitrogen entering our waters.  She hopes that people will listen, take action and educate others, so that the next generation will have a beautiful natural world to inherit.

“It takes energy, but it pays off so much.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there that are raising the next generation of environmental leaders!



Help protect Long Island's waters for future generations - sign up to become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership.

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First Harmful Algal Bloom of the Season

A few weeks out from Memorial Day, Long Island has seen our first HAB of the summer

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has had to temporarily close a portion of western Shinnecock Bay to harvesting shellfish due to red tide.  The red tide is caused by a toxic algae called Alexandrium which produces saxitoxin, a dangerous neurotoxin that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans. Right now, 1,600 acres are closed for shellfishing. To learn more red tide, check out our previous blog post.

Red tide has appeared in Long Island waters for over a decade, leading to shellfish bed closures and causing a massive die-off of turtles in the Peconic back in 2015. Red tide, like other harmful algal blooms (HABs) that plague Long Island, are caused by excessive nitrogen in our waters.  Failing sewage infrastructure, outdated septics and cesspools have continued to exacerbate our nitrogen pollution problem, but we know what we need to do to combat red tide and other HABs: Upgrade our sewage and septic systems.

After red tide was found in Northport Harbor in 2006, Northport and Centerport Harbors became the epicenter for red tide. The outdated Northport Sewage Treatment Plant was discharging excess nitrogen and other pollutants into the harbor and led to Centerport Beach being closed for seven years. However, after fighting for funding to upgrade the plant and have state-of-the-art nitrogen reduction measures, Centerport Beach was open in 2015 and Northport Harbor did not have a red tide event in five years. Unfortunately, in 2018, 500 acres of shellfish beds in Northport Harbor were closed due to the emergence of red tide.   

In the near future, we must continue to fight the emergence of these algae blooms and work to reduce Long Island's nitrogen pollution output.  In some areas, that means upgrading sewage infrastructure. For the 360,000 people in Suffolk on septics and cesspools, that means upgrading to advanced on-site systems that will remove nitrogen.  New York State dedicated $10m this year for upgrading septics in Suffolk and $1m for Nassau, and Suffolk County has approved several systems that significantly reduce nitrogen entering our groundwater. Suffolk County is offering rebates for residents who want to upgrade to an advanced on-site wastewater treatment system and have already had success with systems that have been installed. To find out more, visit Suffolk County’s Reclaim our Waters Initiative.

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Kids Playing in Long Island Sound

Where Has Nitrogen Reduction Been Successful?

While there is a big price-tag associated with upgrading the 360,000 cesspools and septic systems that leach nitrogen pollution into our groundwater, the cost of doing nothing is not an option as harmful algal blooms, fish kills, beach and shellfish closures continue to plague our region.

But as millions of dollars begin to be invested in alternative septic systems to reduce the flow of nitrogen pollution from sewage into Long Island’s waters, how do we know that the investment will pay off?  How do we know that less nitrogen will mean more fish, fewer closings of lakes and ponds, and healthier tidal marshes—to name just a few of the goals of the many people working at the state and local levels to improve our water quality and public health?

Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, has an answer. There, a 23 percent reduction in nitrogen pollution has been accompanied by a gain of 42,000 acres of sea grass—a vital underwater habitat that supports shellfish and finfish yet is extremely difficult to restore once lost. That’s an increase of 316 percent in seagrass cover since nitrogen reductions began there. Authors of a recent peer-reviewed study published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science call the return of sea grass to Chesapeake Bay an “unprecedented recovery.”

Other nitrogen-reduction success stories include increased dissolved oxygen in Long Island Sound following reductions of nitrogen discharges from sewage treatment plants, return of sea grass to Mumford Cove in Connecticut following the removal of a sewage outfall pipe, and a large resurgence in seagrass cover in Tampa Bay, FL, but the study’s authors say that “the Chesapeake Bay has seen greater total and proportional recovery than any other [sea grass] restoration project of which we are aware.”

Long Island has followed several of the policy changes implemented in the Chesapeake Bay region including rebate programs for onsite wastewater system upgrades. As long as we make the necessary investments, we can expect that our results will also emulate those of the Chesapeake.

Economic Gains from Better Water Quality

Economic gains from better water quality are no drop in the bucket, according to a Stony Brook University study based on Suffolk County home sales. The study found “a 1-foot improvement in water clarity” could result in housing value increases “equaling $2.7 billion in the aggregate for Suffolk County.”

The best way to stem the tide of destructive nitrogen pollution is to eliminate it at its source. In most places on Long Island, the primary source for nitrogen pollution is human waste water flowing from our septic systems. That waste water reaches our bays, harbors, ponds and creeks through ground water flow and threatens Long Island’s health, economy and quality of life. We’re fixing it now by modernizing and upgrading our wastewater treatment systems. This process is in its infancy and there is still a lot to be learned about best practices. Suffolk County is to be commended for taking steps to create a program that will mitigate nitrogen pollution at its source to protect our Long Island way of life for us and our children.

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Perfluorinated Chemicals in Our Drinking Water

Long Island's water supply at risk

Emerging contaminants like Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) present a new threat to our drinking water supply. Unfortunately, there is no set standard for these synthetic manufacturing chemicals that are widespread and have been found in bloodstreams of humans, wildlife and fish, and are considered by the US EPA to be a likely human carcinogen. We all know that Long Island’s sole source aquifer is already at risk, but with each passing day, it seems like the threats to Long Island’s waters just keeps rising.

In 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency first confirmed unregulated PFCs in the local drinking water wells near the Westhampton Air Base. In August 2017, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation launched its own investigation into the source of PFC pollution responsible for contaminating more than 100 private wells near an airport in Westhampton. These investigations led researchers to suspect that the source of the PFCs was related to a firefighting foam used at the nearby air base for decades and had polluted residents’ drinking water. 

But the problem doesn’t end in Westhampton…

After a sustained investigation, The Suffolk County Health Department is now expanding its own survey of private wells near the East Hampton Airport and a former sand mine after the discovery of PFCs in contaminated wells went from 59 to 63 in the nearby hamlet of Wainscott. PFCs are also now showing up in the hamlet East Quogue at a former town brush dump with significant potential consequences for local homeowners with private wells. 

So, what’s the concern? Unfortunately, EPA’s current lifetime health advisory level for PFCs is only .07 parts per billion, yet PFC concentrations in some private wells have been found to be more than 100 times greater. In addition to locating the sources of contamination, further studies are now being conducted to better determine the health effects of PFCs, with some researchers finding links between the chemicals and behavioral disorders, neurobehavioral development, and immune function.

Long Island needs strong protection by government at both the local and State levels to protect our drinking water. You can help us deliver this message!  Tell your legislators to take a stand for clean water by protecting the clean water we have, cleaning up our polluted drinking water, and investing in the long-term health of our coastal bays and harbors. You can also stay informed by joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today!

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Long Island Sound Watershed

What is a Watershed?

What do those signs on the Long Island Expressway mean?

In November 2015, new signs began popping up along the Long Island Expressway alerting drivers of the watershed they were driving through. These signs read “Entering the… Long Island Sound, Peconic River or Carmans River Watersheds.” These signs are part of an important awareness and education effort that had long been advocated for by environmental groups and had finally been supported and implemented by the New York State Department of Transportation.

All of Long Island is a watershed, or an area of land that drains to a stream, river, lake, bay or wetland.  This also means that all of our activity on land has the potential to impact our waters – unfortunately, various forms of pollution on land’s surface can runoff and interfere with the health of our watersheds. Sewage from aging or poorly maintained septic systems, lawn fertilizers, pet waste, car fluids, toxic household chemicals and garbage can all be carried into our water if we’re not careful.

These signs aim to protect our watersheds by reminding us that on Long Island, we must all make a concerted effort to protect our waters by taking careful actions on land to reduce pollution. Maintain your septic system annually; eliminate toxic pesticides and fertilizers or choose organic and biodegradable products when caring for your lawn; pick-up after your pets; fix any fuel or fluid leaks from your car and don’t wash hazardous materials off your driveway; and never litter or dump garbage, cigarettes, leaves or chemicals into storm drains.

Stay up to date on all the ways you can protect Long Island’s water by becoming a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership. And never miss a blog post from the Partnership by signing up to receive our posts directly to your inbox here!

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The Scoop on Pet Poop

Why picking up after your pet helps water quality

As spring progresses, Long Islanders are sure to be spending more time outdoors with their dogs at the beach, in the park, on hiking trails, or even just hanging out in the backyard. "Man's best friend" needs this time to exercise and play, and also to relieve themselves. Aside from common courtesy, there are some very important reasons why you should pick up after your pet. Here is the scoop on pet poop

Facts:
1. The average pooch excretes 3/4 of a pound of waste per day - that's 274 pounds per year
2. Biodegradable doggie bags are not enough for pet waste - they have to be discarded in a trash bin to mitigate concerns of environmental impacts
3. The best way to dispose of dog poop is to flush it down the toilet

Pet waste is high in nitrogen and can contain disease-causing parasites and bacteria, which may end up in Long Island's water if left on the ground. Pet waste on the beach and along the roadside can easily wash into our bays, creeks, and harbors, as stormwater runoff after rain and snow melt flow across yards, parks, trails, and more. Excess nitrogen can lead to water quality conditions that kill eel grass, reduce nitrogen, and cause harmful algal blooms. Did you know that in addition to killing fish and making people sick, algal blooms may also be lethal to pets?

Being a responsible pet owner and picking up after your pet is a simple way to help reduce your impact on Long Island water quality. Be sure to carry extra bags with you when walking your dog and share with others when needed. Dispose of these bags by leaving them in a trash bin or flushing the waste down the toilet - without the bag of course! Remind friends and family of the impacts of pet waste on the environment. Also, never compost pet waste.

Help mitigate some of the harmful effects of pet waste on water quality, and pick up after your pet to keep our beaches, parks, and trails clean and safe for everyone to enjoy. Take action and join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today! 

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Celebrating World Water Day 2018

No matter the borders that one resides in or the language that one speaks, one commonality that unites the globe is a dependence on water. Today, this invaluable resource of water is celebrated around the world in honor of World Water Day! Being the largest island in the continental United States, Long Island has an even greater reason than most to recognize the role that water plays in sustaining our lives.

Created in 1993, the UN-designated “World Water Day” is celebrated every March 22nd to raise awareness of the widespread challenge of declining water quality. The theme for World Water Day 2018 is “Nature for Water”, which explores the nature-based solutions that can be used to restore degraded waterbodies and prevent further damage to the world’s water quality. Asides from targeting the primary cause of nitrogen pollution – compromised cesspools and septic systems- it is especially important for Long Islanders to pursue water quality solutions that use the environment around them. These nature-based solutions are especially relevant to limiting the frequency of storm water runoff – the second largest threat to Long Island’s water quality after failing cesspools. Stormwater runoff moves contaminants from the surface, whether it is road salt or fertilizer, into the island’s waterbodies, thereby degrading the quality of the water. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that we can utilize “Nature for Water”.

  • Coastal Erosion Control – With over 118 miles of shoreline, Long Island’s battle for clean water is largely fought on the beaches. Extreme weather conditions severely damage and erode the coast along Long Island. Once eroded, coastlines are prone to allowing contaminants to enter waterbodies and increased flooding.  As a result, control over the erosion of these beaches is heavily sought. Known as the first line of defense for beaches, dunes and the reconstruction of damaged dunes are a primary tactic used in controlling this erosion. By repairing fallen dunes, communities can provide a natural barrier against destructive winds and waves that erode Long Island’s coastlines.

  • Salt Marsh Protection – Before 1974, over 10,000 acres of salt marshes, also referred to as wetlands, were destroyed. Since that time, the environmentally sensitive role that these ecosystems play has been recognized and efforts to protecting them have expanded. Salt marshes help to prevent pollutants from reaching beaches and bays that would otherwise would travel through storm water runoff and other means, prevent shoreline erosion and flooding that often times brings contaminants back into waterbodies and provide protected habitats for threatened fish, birds and other wildlife. Because of this relationship with water quality protection, healthy salt marshes on Long Island must be protected and degraded salt marshes must be restored. Currently, efforts to restore hundreds of acres of wetlands on the South Shore are ongoing and making significant progress.

  • Green Infrastructure – As the 18th most populated island in the entire world, Long Island certainly has an extensive system of infrastructure and development. However, in order to improve its water quality, Long Island must build a different type of infrastructure: “green infrastructure”. This includes the planting of native gardens and trees, installation of green roofs or rain gardens and construction of permeable pavements. All of these improvements work to prevent polluted storm water from running into Long Island’s water bodies and further degrading the quality of the water.

On this World Water Day, take a moment to appreciate the opportunities that clean water provides communities and to learn more about ways in which our water quality can be improve through the environment that surrounds us. To learn more, visit our section on “Long Island’s Water” or email us at info@longislandcleanwater.org.

Never miss an update from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership - sign up for blog email updates here

           

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What's On Your Lawn?

High-nitrogen fertilizers are poisoning Long Island water

Though temperatures are still chilly, this is the time of year when many homeowners prepare to sign annual lawn maintenance contracts with Long Island landscaping professionals. But many of the very products that keep the grass a green, do more harm than good to Long Island’s water resources. Pesticides along with high-nitrogen, and “quick-release” fertilizers have been proven to contribute to Long Island’s water quality problems, and these water quality problems can pose a threat to humans, pets, and wildlife.

Pesticides and fertilizers can both contaminate our drinking water, as well as our ground and surface waters. Fertilizers have also been a factor in “fueling” harmful algal blooms that result in fish kills, shellfish bed closures, beach closures, and more. Did you know that chemical fertilizers and lawn treatments can even interfere with natural photosynthesis by coating grass and plants with chemicals that are difficult to absorb? These harmful chemicals can also kill off the beneficial microbes found in healthy soil that are needed to grow healthy plants. Many homeowners don’t realize the impacts of these chemicals used to keep properties picture perfect, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and Long Island water, and still have a healthy attractive lawn.

If you feel you must fertilize, and in many cases you don’t really have to, please tell your landscaper you don’t want toxic chemicals used on your property, and ask for low-nitrogen and “slow-release” alternatives to fertilizers designed to “green-up” your lawn in an instant. These fertilizers can quickly bypass your lawn and pass directly into our ground and surface water. By contrast, slow-release fertilizers are broken down over time by microbes in the soil, require less regular use, and provide nutrients more evenly and effectively to plantings over the course of the entire growing season. Opt for biodegradable and organic alternatives. Learn more about non-toxic lawn products at I Love Long Island, and check out this news clip about the dangers of high-nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides.

Long Island water is at risk, and improper lawn care adds to the problem. Be informed on what is being put on your lawn, and consider Long Island landscapers that use that natural products when signing up for lawn care services this year. You can make a difference in Long Island’s water quality and help protect your family, pets, and wildlife.

Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and take action to protect Long Island water!

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Coastal Flooding and Water Quality

How Nature Can Help Reduce Impacts of Flooding


The severity and impacts of coastal storms and flooding are getting worse. Reducing the risks that storms pose always involves multiple solutions working in tandem. These solutions include: early warning systems; manmade or “built” solutions like reservoirs, dams, levees, seawalls and pumps; working with willing communities and homeowners to move people out of areas that are subject to frequent flooding, and nature itself. 

There is a role that nature itself can play in helping reduce flood risk for communities while providing other benefits, like improved water quality and enhanced recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, all of which can also enrich local economies. Such “nature-based solutions” or “natural infrastructure” are important as part of a holistic approach to coastal resilience.

But to be effective, our natural systems need good water quality so that they can be healthy and resilient. 

Science Shows that Marshes Reduce Property Losses

A study commissioned by The Nature Conservancy showed that coastal wetlands in the northeastern U.S. prevented $625 million in property damages from flooding during Hurricane Sandy. The study also showed that these same wetlands reduce annual storm damage by at least 15 percent. There are many cost-effective and sensible ways to finance natural infrastructure for coastal flood damage reduction and support the re-building of coastal resilience.

Currently, less than 3 percent of funding currently goes to natural infrastructure as opposed to “grey” or “built” infrastructure. This is a coastal investment portfolio that should be re-balanced, especially when funds are made available for rebuilding after major storms. 

Dunes Provide Protection at South Seaside Park, N.J.

In December 1992, a Nor’easter caused significant flooding and erosion at South Seaside Park, in part because naturally occurring dunes there had been removed years before to improve ocean views and beach access. After the 1992 Nor’easter the community used snow fencing to help rebuild the dunes and then stabilized them by planting dune grasses. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, the dunes were 25 feet high and 150 feet wide. During the storm, these dunes protected the community from severe damage and flooding along the ocean front. The dunes, rather than homes, businesses and infrastructure, took the brunt of the storm.

South Seaside Park also serves as a case study for the Naturally Resilient Communities program, which is a partnership of county governments, professional engineers, community planners, floodplain managers and conservationists who work with communities to improve their quality of life and economies through the use of nature-based solutions.

Beaches and Wetlands Reduce Flood Damage at South Cape May, N.J.

At the 200-acre South Cape May Meadows Preserve, The Nature Conservancy has worked with partners to restore wetlands and sand dunes that have helped protect the neighborhood located behind them from the impacts of several storms, including Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. This natural infrastructure protected Cape May Point during Hurricane Sandy against the third highest storm surge experienced since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. The restored wetland absorbed nearly 10 inches of rainfall—also the highest recorded since 1985—resulting in minimal damage to nearby neighborhoods. 

In 2014, Conservancy scientists produced an analysis of the economic and social benefits of the ecological restoration at South Cape May. They found that the restoration helped reduce the average flood damage per storm from $143,713 to $3,713 (for the same level of storm surge). During Sandy, nourished beaches on New Jersey’s Atlantic Coast reduced the likelihood of severe damage or destruction to “first row” homes and businesses by 50 percent.

Nature’s Strength Depends on You


Nature can be a big ally in helping to protect us against coastal storms. But nature also depends on us to keep it healthy. You can help keep our marshes (and other habitats) healthy by limiting your use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that runoff and harm wetlands and marshes.

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