Peconic Great South Baykeeper
Growing Risks and Misguided Policy, Oct. 6, 2014

-Letter to the Editor-

October 6, 2014

Growing Risks and Misguided Policy

 The New York Times recently featured an article relevant to all Long Islanders entitled “A Rising Tide of Contaminants” (September 25, 2014). The article shockingly details the lack of research, testing and understanding of the effects on both public health and the environment resulting from the tens of thousands of contaminants increasingly found in our ground and surface water supplies. The article indicated:

 -That there was a lack of knowledge concerning the effect background levels (of these contaminants) mean in terms of environmental or public health;

   -The number of chemicals contaminating our environment is growing at exponential rate – with approximately 15,000 new chemicals and biological sequences registered every day;

   - There is rising concern among researchers about the way older compounds are altered in the environment, sometimes taking on new and more dangerous forms;

   - The development of new compounds and the increasing discovery of unexpected contaminants in the environment means that the Nation desperately needs a better system for assessing and prioritizing chemical exposures but that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has not been updated since its adoption in 1976;

   - While the TSCA requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to maintain an inventory of registered industrial compounds that may be toxic, it does not require advance safety testing of those materials. Of the 84,000 compounds registered, only a fraction have ever been fully tested for health effects on humans;

  -Despite the alarming trends, Congress has not sent an environmental law to the president’s desk for signature in 18 years.

Here on Long Island, we should be particularly concerned as we are located on top of a sole source aquifer. All of our drinking water comes from below us and what we dump into the ground ultimately and inevitably finds its way into our drinking and surface waters. Suffolk County Health officials have documented a 200% increase in nitrogen along with a doubling of the concentration and a quadrupling of the frequency of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in our drinking water supply wells. Over 115 pesticide-related compounds have now been detected in our drinking water supplies along with an alarming array of emerging contaminants such as personal care products and pharmaceuticals and Nassau and Suffolk Counties now have more Super Fund sites (254) than any other region in the State.

Because contaminants move from ground water to our surface waters, we can now see a host of impacts along our shorelines. Local clam, scallop, lobster and oyster populations have all been reduced by over 97%, the number of impaired waterways grows longer each year and this summer there were over 140 beach closures due to unhealthy bacteria levels.

It is nice that some county officials have talked about the importance of clean water but their actions remain troubling. Raiding the drinking Water Protection Fund to balance the budget, cutting the budget for the Department of Health's Environmental Quality Division, selling off open space as one-shot revenue deals and cutting already underfunded open space programs to reduce debt service while at the same time showering favored developers with unsustainable taxpayer funded subsidies calls into question their commitment to improved water quality.  

Our elected officials need to do better. Not just because it is the right thing but because it is their responsibility to protect our health, safety and welfare. Clean air, clean water and a healthy environment are our collective right. Perhaps, our elected officials should begin to pursue these goals with the same zeal that they court local developers and campaign contributors.

Daniel J. Gulizio

Executive Director

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