Concerns over water quality in Long Beach after Sandy

Health Department to start testing beaches this week


Amid growing concerns among residents over the water quality in the ocean and Reynolds Channel in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, City Manager Jack Schnirman called on Nassau County last week to move forward with water testing and make the results available to the public.

In a letter to Lawrence Eisenstein, commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Health, and County Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach), Schnirman requested the results of any water testing of the ocean or the bay that may have been conducted after the storm.

“If this testing has not been completed, we are requesting that it be done as soon as possible,” Schnirman wrote. “Due to the tens of millions of gallons of raw, untreated sewage that the county sewer treatment plant at Bay Park put into Reynolds Channel, the residents of Long Beach justifiably have concerns relating to the safety of these waterways. Our goal is to ease any fears that people may have and to reassure everyone that our waterways are safe and free of any environmental hazards. Please provide us with your findings as soon as they become available.”

Schnirman said that he received a response from Ford on Tuesday, saying that the Health Department conducted a test of the entire barrier island, including the bay, less than a month after the storm.

“Just to be sure, they did an unscheduled sampling on Nov. 12 along the entire Long Beach waterfront, and all Long Beach beaches tested perfectly normal for bacteria counts,” Schnirman said. “They said that they have no reason to believe that there is any residual bacteria at this time. Obviously, we anxiously await the results of the current round of testing, and we look forward to publicizing them to address the concerns of our residents.”

Schnirman’s letter comes as the city prepares to open its beaches on Memorial Day weekend, and as residents wonder about any lingering health threats resulting from the storm. A number of residents expressed concern about the quality of the ocean water, with persistent — though unconfirmed — rumors that some surfers have become ill.

“I think at a time after the storm, residents are scared, and it’s up to us to ease their fears, and I’m hopeful that that the county Department of Health has been looking into this aggressively, and I look forward to hearing from them and what they’re finding,” Schnirman told the Herald. “We’re trying to be on the safe side, and at a time when people are understandably concerned, we want to be extra cautious and help alleviate those fears.”

A nine-foot storm surge caused the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant to go offline, which overwhelmed the sewage collection system, and caused breaches in two areas that allowed sewage to back up onto streets and into homes, and the Western Bays.* The county declared a public health emergency after raw or partially treated sewage was discharged in the aftermath of the storm.

“We kept hearing about how much sewage was coming from Bay Park into Reynolds Channel and into the ocean itself,” said Billy Kupferman, president of the Long Beach Surfer’s Association, who added that he only recently started surfing again, and is unaware of any surfers becoming ill. “We were unofficially informed to stay out of the ocean water immediately after the storm. The information hasn’t made its way to the public yet to the point where everyone can say, yeah, the water was tested and here’s the information.”

Scott Bochner, co-founder of the Sludge Stoppers Task Force — who, in 2010, posted several videos on YouTube documenting the Bay Park plant’s dumping of partially treated sewage in greater concentrations than allowed by law — said that sewage made its way from the bay into the ocean waters during Sandy.

“When the storm hit, all of that went into Long Beach,” he said. “It went in with the tide and out with the tide. I was telling people not to go in the water because when the Bay Park plant got swamped, there was a good eight straight days of untreated sewage into the channel. It was people’s oil also — all of the oil tanks, the oil came up. The ocean [will] flush itself out. I know people have been in the water and have been surfing. But we don’t know for sure — the Department of Health has to go in and do their testing."

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