I drink filtered tap water as often as I can. Drinking bottled water has seemed not worth the cost, high carbon footprint, and exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals from the plastic bottles—especially when studies have found that bottled water is often just filtered tap water.
However, as a part-time resident of Suffolk County, I frequently question the safety of our local water supply. Stories over the years fueled my concerns.
In 2012, a beloved dog, Rosie, died after licking water from Georgica Pond. Later, Georgica Pond in East Hampton was declared no longer safe for pets and humans to swim in, as you can learn more in the video below.
Investigations lead to the discovery of high levels of toxic blue-green algae. Blue-green algae has bloomed in Lake Agawam, Mecox Bay, and Mill, Wickapogue and Georgica ponds at different times since 2016. According to an article by Carl LoBue, a senior Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, in Fire Island and Beyond:
Suffolk is now New York’s most impacted County, with more lakes and ponds being closed to recreation due to blue-green algae in the summers of 2015 and 2016 than anywhere else in the State.
Soon after, there were reports of large increases in dead turtles and fish due to inadequate oxygen, or too much nitrogen, in our water. In 2016, ABC Eyewitness news reported a "massive fish kill on Long Island in which tens of thousands of dead fish turned up in a canal Monday."
This trend of unprecedented amounts of dead fish led to the realization that our waters have excess nitrogen from both our sewage treatment systems and fertilizer: Nearly 75 percent of the county uses septic systems or cesspools. Experts say this has led to high nitrogen levels that are disrupting our ecosystems in various ways, including with algal blooms that can kill marine life and can pose risk to human health. Blue-green algae thrives on nitrogen.
Fortunately, reducing nitrogen pollution has become a priority of Suffolk County, the state and the university. The Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (Governor Andrew Cuomo allocated $5 million in 2015 to it) was created to address this issue by reducing the sources of excessive nitrogen in groundwater and waterways.
Our primary source of excess nitrogen comes from wastewater, but fertilizer is another major source. Nitrogen is a key ingredient in fertilizer that helps grow grass and other vegetation.
Replacing failing traditional septic systems with more advanced nitrogen filtering systems is underway, as well as reducing fertilizer use through the Suffolk County Fertilizer Reduction Initiative.
Earlier this year, residents of Suffolk County with well water were notified that their water should be tested for elevated levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), a group of chemicals that belong to a family of chemicals known as PFCs (perfluorinated compounds), after these PFCs were detected in 63 private wells.
PFCs have been used in industrial and commercial products, like formulas that repel water, oil, stains and grease.
Click here to watch a related news video: Water wells being tested over contaminant concerns.
The Suffolk County Health Department confirmed that a local sand land mine (located off of Millstone Road) has significantly contaminated our underlying groundwater aquifer. "Mulching and composting at the Sand Land Corp. site in Noyack have had 'significant adverse impacts on groundwater,' with elevated levels of metals beyond drinking water standards, a study by Suffolk County has found," according to an article by Mark Harrington in Newsday.
Click here to watch a news video on this issue: Water testing wells installed at Bridgehampton sand mining site.
Lead, arsenic, excessive manganese, cobalt and radio-nuclei are among the contaminants found in our aquifer at levels exceeding drinking water standards. The contamination has penetrated deeply into the groundwater aquifer, posing a threat to private drinking water wells in the vicinity of the facility as well as to the region’s long-term drinking water supply. These contaminants have been associated with major health problems for adults and children.
State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. has called for "the immediate testing of all wells "down gradient" from the contamination site, a comprehensive survey of the Sand Land site by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to determine the scope of the problem, the halting of all composting and mulching operations at Sand Land, a decision to curtail any Sand Land expansion by the DEC and a letter from Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman establishing that mining is illegal under local zoning laws." Below are videos from the 2018 July 13 press conference in Sag Harbor on the water test results.
And below is a letter from Elena Loreto, President Noyac Civic Council:
Dear Dr. Tomarken, Suffolk County Health Commissioner,
You are probably aware that the raw data from the test wells at the Sand Land Mine indicate that contaminants have seeped into the sole source aquifer. This is our water supply on the East End. Heavy metals, toxins, and other chemicals were found in the water tests. For example, manganese was detected at 87 times the drinking water standard. Excessive manganese and cobalt have been linked to developmental delays in children, along with tremors, lethargy, and mental disturbances in both children and adults. In light of these findings concluded by Dr. Stuart Cohen of CGWP Environmental and Turf Services, the Noyac Civic Council implore the Suffolk County Health Department to test the private wells down gradient of the contamination NOW and that the tests should be performed free of charge. This is a major public health issue that cannot wait for another two months until the Health Department writes its final report. The health of our Noyac and Bridgehampton residents cannot wait another day. This health threat has been ignored and minimized for too long. Please act now.
I am awaiting your reply.
Elena Loreto, President Noyac Civic Council
First, we need to engage with efforts that fight to protect our water quality. Visit my website www.nontoxicliving.tips for more details.
Second, if you rely on well water, have your water tested often. Even if your well water has tested normal, the contaminants in our aquifer can affect your well water in the future.
Third, consider that filtered municipal tap water may be safer. Bob DeLuca explained that municipal water is tested regularly and contaminants are therefore addressed. Fred Thiele described the Suffolk County Water Authority as “outstanding,” and people should have a “high level of confidence” in the Suffolk County Water Authority.
Four, Sand Land Mine is a vegetative and construction operation that no longer has sand to mine. We should contact our elected and appointed officials to end the processing of vegetative waste above our sole-source aquifer, and encourage the DEC to reject any expansion of the Sand Land Mine.
Below are our Suffolk County elected and appointed officials that you can contact to let them know you want the local sand mine closed.
Curious about what local experts chose for their families, I reached out to owners of my favorite organic farms. Jo Halsey of Green Thumb and David Falkowski of Open Minded Organics (as well as Dr. Frank Lipman) use a whole house water filtration system for their tap water. Farmer Frank of Bhumi Farms, who is on well water, uses glass bottled water.
If whole house water filtration isn’t an option for you, then visit the EWG Tap Water Database for more options. I found it interesting that New York City tap water, which is considered among the cleanest in the nation, has slightly more contaminants than Suffolk County tap water. That provided me with helpful context since there isn't as much controversy over NYC tap water as there is over Suffolk County water.
Me? I will keep investigating water filtration options, and contact our elected and appointed officials to participate in protecting our water. I hope you will too.
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