Long Island’s unique character and culture derives from its rich and vibrant agricultural and maritime history. The region’s parks, farms, and beaches provide substantial economic and recreational benefits to the region, support a multibillion-dollar tourism industry, and represent what Long Islanders most value about their way of life. Yet, Long Island’s aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for the region’s 2.8 million residents, and surface waters are in trouble. Thanks to one donor’s fund dedication to improving the environment, our grantmaking in this area helps to protect and preserve Long Island’s natural resources, healthy ecosystems and public health.
Nitrogen pollution has reached crisis levels in Suffolk County, affecting water quality in the aquifer, fueling toxic algae blooms in bays, harbors, and ponds that restricts fishing and recreation. Our Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund has funded The Nature Conservancy to support a communication campaign and workshops aligning nitrogen-reduction strategies among communities and nonprofits. Tens of thousands of East End homes get water directly from the aquifer. This “free water,” which many poor residents of the East End rely on, are some of the most polluted in Suffolk County.
As a result of The Nature Conservancy’s efforts, Suffolk County, and the Towns of East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island adopted rebate and incentive programs for the upgrading of existing, substandard septic systems.
1,4-dioxane is a chemical found in almost half of personal care products including detergents, shampoos, cosmetics, deodorants, and baby bath products. It is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as “likely to be carcinogenic” and is listed as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. It is generally not biodegradable and is highly portable, moving quickly into ground and surface water. Yet there is no national drinking water standard for 1,4 dioxane and conventional water treatment technologies do not effectively remove it. Working with funding from the Long Island Community Foundation, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment released a study that says tests found the chemical 1,4-dioxane in 65 of 80 household products, including baby products, shampoos, detergents and body washes, although most at levels well below what the FDA considers safe for consumers. This consumer-friendly report is a safe shopper product guide which has been distributed to Long Island Consumers and is available on the organization’s website.
Single-use plastic bags are a menace to the environment. Not only are they expensive and difficult to dispose of, but millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year, killing thousands of marine mammals that mistake it as food. On Long Island, more than 50 independent stores have pledged to stop using plastic bags, and Suffolk County, along with six of its towns and villages, has passed legislation mandating a 5-cent fee for each plastic bag customers use. However, businesses and municipalities remain concerned about inconveniencing customers, and many residents are still unaware of the pollution hazards, or just forget to bring reusable bags. All Our Energy in Point Look Out, is leading a campaign, with funding from the Long Island Community Foundation, designed to educate Long Islanders and change public behavior. The nonprofit is launching education programs, meeting with local legislators to develop reusable bag policies, encouraging local businesses to support and publicize reusable bags, and providing reusable bags to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other organizations to distribute to their clients.