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Water Pollution – Who’s to Blame?

Why we need to protect Long Island water today

Given every community's competing interests, it can be a struggle to make elected officials aware of what’s impacting our waters and motivate them to take decisive action. Unfortunately, cleaning up our waters often requires finding the polluters, which can be an incredibly challenging struggle all on its own. Recently, on the East End of Long Island, there has been debate as to where some serious contaminants in the drinking water are coming from. Perflourinated compounds – including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination – were detected last spring in East Quogue at record levels for Long Island. These dangerous, manmade chemicals have also been linked to cancer and other serious health impacts.

One of the initial contamination suspects was a former Southampton Town landfill in East Quogue, though recently Southampton Town officials pointed to Gabreski Airport as a possible source instead. 

Such debate and disagreement are not uncommon in the complicated science of tracking groundwater contamination, and given the costs of clean-up, there are substantial economic benefits to being let "off the hook" in areas of longstanding pollution. Unfortunately, in the absence of clearly identifying polluters, clean-up or pollution mitigation often falls to government. Those clean-up costs reduce the funding that is available for other necessary water quality protection projects. 

Consider the recent use of water quality funds from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) – a campaign the Long Island Clean Water Partnership worked tirelessly to extend in an effort to protect land and water through 2050. An amendment to the CPF was passed over the summer that specifically allowed use of the funds to help alleviate contamination through water main extension. 

In the face of rising groundwater contamination in East Hampton and Southampton, these funds are now being considered as a means to pay for public water main extensions in areas where contamination has reached private wells. Although the provision of clean water is essential, the failure to identify polluters and hold them accountable inevitably shifts the cost of contamination onto the public while the culprits go free.

We need to protect Long Island’s water today and not wait until our drinking is already contaminated to take action. Contact your legislators and tell them to stand up for clean water on Long Island and to hold polluters accountable for contaminating our drinking water. Now more than ever we need your voice. For what you can do at home, click here.