It was reported in June of this year that Long Island residents had the highest parts per million (ppm) of contaminants in their water in the entire state of New York1. In October, it was further reported that Long Island water had more than 270 types of contaminants that cause cancer, low-birth weight and other illnesses, the main contaminants being 1,4 Dioxane and PolyFluoroacxyl (PFAs)2.
In February of this year, however, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) proposed a PFA action plan: adding PFOAs and PFOs (per/poly Fluoroacxyl) to the Safe Drinking Water Act and putting in place a maximum contaminant amount (MCA) for these chemicals. PFAs are a harmful set of chemicals used in an endless amount of things: carpets, leather, rubber, coatings, cookware, pizza boxes, stain repellents, and fire retardants.3 Before this action plan, the EPA had not previously added new chemicals to the Safe Drinking Water Act in over 20 years. Not just the EPA, but all federal organizations have not taken regulatory steps to control or stop the spread of PFAs in the environment.
While the main source of water in mainland New York City comes from the Catskills, the main source for Long Island is aquifers. There are three major aquifers under Long Island: the Upper Glacial, the Magothy, and the Lloyd.4 This situation means that the water may easily be polluted by cesspools, underground tanks that serve as a temporary holder of liquid waste, and septic tanks, where human waste is stored and where the removal process begins. Contamination of the aquifers has been identified by the state as coming from Northrop Grumman’s aerospace facility, and Navy facilities nearby. Obviously, the products they have and produce will contain large amounts of PFAs.
The state is considering draft regulations that would require most water districts to test wells for PFAs between 60 and 90 days of when the EPA standards are adopted. The smallest water districts (less than 3,300 people) would have six months to test.1 For instance, the Town of Hempstead is suing 25 water companies for knowingly selling contaminated water. Water districts would have 30 days to notify the public of any violations.
As for long-term solutions, many local officials have proposed outsourcing water from New York’s upstate counties or possibly just allowing Long Island’s water to be tapped from New York City. Another option involves simply purchasing water from the city’s water department, as it claims to have a significant surplus. Furthermore, the City of New York is set to have put new dioxane standards into place early next year.
1 : Schwartz, David M. “Long Islanders Look to New York City for Tap Water.” Newsday, Newsday, 20 Oct. 2019, www.newsday.com/long-island/environment/nyc-drinking-water-nassau-county-1.37663118.
2 : Schwartz, David M. “Water Districts Want Delay of Drinking Water Standard.” Newsday, Newsday, 17 Oct. 2019, www.newsday.com/long-island/environment/1-4-dioxane-in-public-wells-1.37599649.
3: “Basic Information on PFAS.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 6 Dec. 2018, www.epa.gov/pfas/basic-information-pfas.
4: “Long Island: Where Does Our Water Come From?” The Nature Conservancy, www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/new-york/stories-in-new-york/long-island-water-quality/where-does-our-water-come-from-/##targetText=Long%20Island’s%20Only%20Source%20of,than%20clean%20water%20to%20drink.