10.10.11 – Water Quality Threats

Last week in this column I wrote about the legislative hearing in Suffolk County regarding the status of the water supply.  There are other contaminants besides improperly maintained septic systems which are affecting groundwater.  Pesticides are a serious threat to ground and surface waters.  More than 95 different pesticides have been detected in groundwater.  According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, commercial applicators used 367,000 gallons of pesticides in Nassau and Suffolk.  This does not include those used by homeowners.  Nitrogen from fertilizer is another contaminant which impairs the water quality in our harbors and bays, and can lead to algal blooms. These algal blooms can kill shellfish and make the waters inhospitable to marine life.  As homeowners, reducing or eliminating our use of nitrogen and fertilizers can help with this problem.  Commercial applicators should use chemicals which are not damaging to water, or use organic alternatives.

Two aspects of the problem of contamination of water are absolutely under an individual’s control – pharmaceuticals and household hazardous waste.  Pharmaceutical contamination is becoming a huge issue, both on Long Island and nationwide.  We were always told to flush old pills to keep them from being abused, or taken accidentally.  Yet, there is no treatment for these drugs when they entered the sewage treatment plants.  The United States Geological Survey has found low levels of antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids in 80% of the rivers and streams.  A study was conducted in Jamaica Bay which found that there is a direct correlation between pharmaceuticals and feminization of fish.  Female winter flounder outnumbered male by 10 to 1. That is not a way to maintain a healthy population of fish. There is little information as to how much and what types of pharmaceuticals are in the drinking water, and many water companies do not test for them.   A way to prevent pharmaceuticals from entering the water supply is to participate in drug take back programs.  The Town of Oyster Bay and Senator Marcellino have both conducted programs recently, and will do so in the future.

The other contaminants which pose a danger to ground and drinking water are household hazardous wastes – those corrosive or toxic chemicals we all use in our home – paint, brake fluids, pesticides, small aerosol cans, consumer batteries, etc.  A STOP (Stop Throwing Out Pollutants) Day will be held by the Town of Oyster Bay on November 6 at their facility on Miller Place in Syosset.  A pharmaceutical collection will be held on the same day.  Electronics, such as keyboards, VCRs, computers, cel phones, will also be accepted.  Electronics are among the worst environmental offenders. They are made with highly toxic chemicals.

Yes, it is a bit of extra work to set aside items that you would like to just set at the curb and get rid of, but the payoff to the environment is well worth it. You will be having a direct and helpful impact on the water you drink and use to swim and fish.