As federal officials propose rolling back water protection regulations, Long Island is struggling to find a solution to the problem of its increasingly contaminated drinking water supply.
Environmental experts have pointed out the presence of a cancer-causing contaminant — 1,4 dioxane, which is found not only in antifreeze, but in soap and cosmetics as well — in our aquifers. At least 82 wells across Long Island have tested above the state limits for dioxane, which is known to cause cancer in animals and is likely to do so in humans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
With reports that drinking water on some parts of the Island is among the most contaminated in the state, and the ongoing threat of saltwater intrusion into our aquifers due to overuse, we need to start seriously considering sharing New York City’s supplies.
Our initial response to the deteriorating quality of our water might be to treat it or remove contaminants, but the process is costly and the technology is in short supply. Because of this, state lawmakers have proposed that we tap into the city’s vast supplies, which could suffice for parts of western Nassau County, or further east, depending on the cost.
On a larger scale, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has proposed slowing the schedule for the replacement of millions of harmful lead pipes as well as rolling back regulations on coal plant waste, which could lead to further contamination of drinking water supplies, which in turn could cause life-threatening issues in humans. Coal plants often dump their residue into pits in the ground, from which toxic chemicals like arsenic, lead and mercury can seep into groundwater.
While giving plants more time to comply with storage restrictions may alleviate issues in the industry, it could contaminate drinking water for millions of people, and environmental groups are threatening to sue. The administration’s move is clearly intended to benefit the dirty fossil fuel industry, despite the nation’s more accepting attitude toward renewable energy.
At the same time, harmful algae blooms, caused by runoff and pollution, are contributing to the collapse of aquatic ecosystems and threatening surface and groundwater reserves.
And this all comes as the U.S. has pulled out of the 2016 Paris climate agreement, and as tens of thousands of scientists have declared a global climate emergency. We need to prioritize monitoring the quality of our drinking water, because our health is at stake. The federal government may choose to ignore the looming danger of not doing so, but New York can do better.
State lawmakers have requested that the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Health study the feasibility of extending New York City’s water infrastructure to parts of Nassau County, and the ball is now in their court. There would be hurdles, such as determining the cost for ratepayers. And doing so would only be a temporary solution for the ever-growing population of Nassau County.
We’d better keep our fingers crossed that the technology to remove contaminants becomes more available and more affordable in the near future.