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Big Boost for Clean Waters Off Long Island

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Algal blooms from nitrogen pollution kill fish, close beaches and endanger public health. (Brandon Seidel/Adobe Stock)
Algal blooms from nitrogen pollution kill fish, close beaches and endanger public health. (Brandon Seidel/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears - Producer, Contact
October 19, 2020

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N.Y. -- Long Island has taken major steps to reduce nitrogen pollution that seeps into groundwater and is discharged into surrounding waters.

New technology at the Bay Park Wastewater Treatment Plant in Nassau County will reduce nitrogen going into the Western Bays by 5,000 pounds a day.

And Suffolk County has passed legislation that will cut nitrogen pollution from new septic systems and cesspools by 20,000 pounds a year.

Carl LoBue, director of the New York Ocean Program for The Nature Conservancy, said nitrogen endangers public health and marine life by promoting the uncontrolled growth of algal blooms.

"They come in the form of macroalgae and phytoplanktons, like red tides and brown tides and cyanobacteria blooms, that kill fish and wildlife, poison shellfish," LoBue explained.

He added nitrogen pollution from old-style septic systems also seeps into Long Island's sole-source drinking water aquifer.

LoBue added by the end of the year, improvements in wastewater treatment at the Bay Park Plant will cut nitrogen pollution in the discharge water by 50%, and that's just the first step.

"Ultimately the outfall from that plant, hopefully in about two years, will be moved," LoBue predicted. "Which will remove all of the nitrogen, and because of the advancements in treatment, it's going to be one of the cleanest ocean outfalls from sewage treatment."

He called the reductions important milestones in the ongoing efforts to cut nitrogen pollution island-wide.

The new Suffolk County law requires all new buildings and substantial renovations to use clean-water septic systems that remove up to 90% of nitrogen.

LoBue pointed out that will increase demand for those systems, which have other benefits as well.

"They're creating jobs," LoBue stressed. "And doing that requires some public investment, but those jobs aren't exported. They're jobs that are done by people who live and work right here in New York."

The law also creates a single system for the county, which he said will save builders time and money.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in New York - Long Island contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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