Earth Matters: Can you trust your drinking water?

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Do you trust your drinking water? If your answer is no, what are you going to do about it?

There are 2.8 million Long Islanders dependent upon on a sole-source aquifer system for groundwater, which means the water that pours from the tap in our homes is being pumped from beneath the Earth’s surface –  the same surface that is constantly being polluted by us in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, roadway runoff, and aging septic systems and sewage treatment plants.

Compounding the problem are the 258 state and federal environmental cleanup sites on Long Island, five (four state, one federal) of which are located in Port Washington, per a Newsday report dated March 31, 2017.

(Please find this report and click on the interactive map of Long Island to educate yourself on the location and details of these sites. I found it highly informative and noted that several of the sites in our area and neighboring areas are due to dry cleaners. Dry cleaners! Maybe we should rethink the use of the dry cleaning chemicals polluting groundwater?)

Growing up locally, I can still recall the stench of the Port Washington Landfill, a Superfund* site located across from Bar Beach, which the Town of North Hempstead had closed a decade earlier.

Our lacrosse team would cover our noses/faces as our van drove past the landfill on our way to practice at Hempstead Harbor Park each day.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s report on the Port Washington Landfill reads:
Operation of the landfill resulted in an off-site soil gas plume composed of methane and volatile organic compounds.

VOCs are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air. Following immediate actions to protect human health and the environment, the site’s remedy was put in place.

During a water program I helped to produce for the League of Women Voters last spring, our keynote speaker, Sarah Meyland, J.D.—a water specialist and professor in the Department of Environmental Technology and Sustainability at New York Institute of Technology—was asked by the audience her opinion of the quality of the drinking water in Port Washington.

Sarah, who is the foremost authority on Long Island’s water and its aquifers, stated that the Port Washington Water District does an excellent job at providing its community with high-quality water.

She advised the community to read the annual report produced by water districts for information on local drinking water quality, including the water’s source, contaminants found in the water, etc.

Additionally, the EPA asks water companies to check drinking water samples for 28 potentially dangerous contaminants that are not now regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

So we know our water district is doing a good job keeping listed contaminants below the standards, but what about our exposure to the contaminants that AREN’T regulated? What other substances were present for which the government has no recommended limit? Or that they aren’t looking for…yet.

In December 2018, a state panel recommended new drinking water standards for maximum levels of three contaminants (PFOS, PFOA and 1,4-dioxane) associated with manufacturing, firefighting foams and household products in what would be some of the most enforceable drinking water standards in the nation. Win for us.

Stanley Carey, superintendent of the Massapequa Water District who is also a member of the Drinking Water Quality Council, and the Chairman of Long Island Commission of Aquifer Protection, voted against the standards.

Let me remind you that LICAP, according to their website, “was formed to address both quality and quantity issues facing Long Island’s aquifer system.”

In an article for Newsday (“New Drinking Water Standards Would Be Toughest In Nation,” December 18, 2018) he is quoted as saying:

“I’m not sure everyone understands the implications to the public water suppliers,” said Carey… Besides the cost, he said, the standard used to prevent one-in-a-million cancer risks with 1,4-dioxane is stricter than what’s used for other chemicals, like volatile organic compounds.”

I’m guessing those scientists probably had a good reason as to why they wanted to put stricter standards on 1,4-dioxane, no? But you would like us to consider the side of the people who are selling us the water? Hmmmm.

That leads me back to the trust question.

Can we trust that those things that are not regulated are OK for us to drink, cook with, bathe in, and use to grow crops?

Not with the 258 environmental cleanup sites that surround us.

And so a small group of concerned citizens (Water For Long Island and Grass Roots Environmental Education, to name a couple of organizations) continues to lobby for the protection of Long Island’s aquifers.

The quality and availability of drinking water will continue to decrease unless we manage our drinking water supply better. We need a regional aquifer management entity dedicated to Long Island. This I’ve made clear in past columns.

So what can you do?
At a private meeting last week, a local elected official stated that Long Island’s groundwater is of concern to many local politicians. In fact, earlier that week there was a discussion between them about what can be done.

We were told the issue lacks “critical mass.”

And so we need more citizens on board who are willing to speak up, and show up, and demand better from our government. Without more of the community joining this fight, we will not generate sufficient force to halt the destruction of our aquifers.

Contact every elected official you know. Call Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Congressman Tom Suozzi, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Chuck Schumer, state Sen. Anna Kaplan, and state Assemblyman Tony D’Urso.

Call Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, and Councilwoman Dina DiGiorgio.

Call to remind them that we have a responsibility to the planet and future generations.

Call and demand to know what role they are willing to play to achieve the goal of getting us a regional groundwater management agency.

* Created in 1980 by Congress, Superfund is a United States federal government program designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants. Of note: tax-payers fund the cleanup of hazardous waste sites, not the offender who did the polluting. Go to www.nationalgeographic.org for an excellent history of Superfund.

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