One of the priorities of the Long Island Community Foundation, an affiliate of The Trust, is to safeguard the health and well-being of Islanders, which means monitoring and improving local water quality. Several recent initiatives have resulted in new protections for the area’s water.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment recently won a three-year battle to protect Long Island’s groundwater. Legislation signed by the Governor now mandates that local governments use new treatment systems to remove the chemical known as 1,4-dioxane from drinking water.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists this chemical as a likely carcinogen and a hazardous air pollutant, it is found in 92 percent of public water systems tested on Long Island—the highest rate of detection in the country. This law is the first in the nation to ban the contaminant and is especially crucial to Long Island, which has the highest cancer rate in the state.
The Long Island Community Foundation awarded multiple grants to Citizens Campaign to raise public awareness and support for policies to stop the use of this toxic chemical, which also is found in many common personal care and household products, including baby bath products.
“Prior to the work of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment,” said Sol Marie Alfonso-Jones, a senior program officer at Long Island Community Foundation, “there had been no regional remedial action or even awareness at the local level of the threats to public health.”
She noted that it is critical to protect Long Island’s groundwater and aquifers from contaminants, as they are Nassau and Suffolk counties’ only source of drinking water. After three years of publishing data, educating the public and elected officials, and advocating for change, Citizens Campaign succeeded, and Long Island won.
Nearly 400,000 aging cesspools and septic systems on Long Island account for 70 percent of the nitrogen entering its water bodies, which contributes to beach closures, fish kills, and the degradation of marshes. The water quality is threatened by nitrogen pollution from antiquated septic systems, fertilizers used on residential lawns and commercial farms, and housing developments.
The Long Island Pine Barrens Society keeps fighting to protect the water quality and land in the Pine Barrens, with support from the Long Island Community Foundation. Grants have helped the group organize public education campaigns and guided hikes to educate people about the importance of land preservation and water quality. The Society has successfully advocated for government grants for septic system replacements—and continues to push for additional funding. It also has built an online educational resource hub about water quality issues on Long Island.
Eelgrass meadow habitats and shellfish populations can mitigate water pollution from rainstorm runoff that carries harmful substances, such as nitrogen fertilizers. This runoff pollutes the aquifer and surface water and causes algae growth, which can deplete dissolved oxygen in water bodies.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County is protecting waters through the restoration of natural habitats. Eelgrass and shellfish populations act as a filter for water pollution, and since both have undergone major declines locally, the Extension is working to increase their presence in several locations.