Long Island, Pay Attention to the Toxins in the Water

As Long Islanders are easing into the New Year, many are hopeful they can keep their resolutions and that this year will be better than the last. Some are beginning to rethink that hopefulness after reading the in-depth reporting done by Long Island’s Newsday on the Island’s tainted drinking water supply.

The Environmental Protection Agency and local government officials have recently announced a new potential carcinogen 1, 4-Dioxane (used in personal care products), which has been found in a large number of wells that supply Long Island’s drinking water. In fact, the EPA believes Long Island has the highest level of this contaminant in its water supply than in any other region in the nation.

Long Island has been suffering with the long term effects of illegal dumping of industrial waste for decades, which has seeped into the sole source supply of drinking water. Many concerned citizens and public officials have been fighting for years to protect our fragile aquifers. Understandably, many residents have paid faint attention to this issue as they are just trying to survive all of the financial pressures of living in this region.

This latest cancer causing toxin joins a long list that has plagued our fragile water supply, including Chromium-6, PFAS and PFOA to name a few. PFOA was the cause of the recent major contamination in Hoosick Falls, NY. 1, 4-Dioxane is very difficult to extract from the water supply, and there are little federal guidelines on what to do because much still needs to be researched about this chemical.

The EPA has designated it a possible human carcinogen and the State of California labeled it a chemical known to cause cancer. We should certainly not get hysterical about this new contaminant, as more research needs to be done. Nevertheless, we should all become more vigilant about gaining information on what is in our water and participating in the public discourse.

We know there are higher rates of breast cancer on Long Island versus the rest of the country. However, there has been no conclusive evidence, yet, that the water supply is a contributing factor to the cancer rate. Though we do know that harmful chemicals continue to be identified in our drinking water supply. This would lead a reasonable person to conclude that one should be cautious about what their family consumes.

The state and local governments have been reactive to this issue and are trying to find a solution. Last September the state awarded Stony Brook University $5 million to develop new filtration technologies to remove emerging contaminants from our drinking water. Also this month, Governor Cuomo mentioned 1,4-Dioxane in his State of the State address on Long Island and proposed to spend $2 billion to protect the state’s drinking water, a laudable proposal. However, we also know the wheels of government move slow and this is an issue that requires immediate action.

If your child breaks their leg, it is an emergency. As a parent, your initial reaction is to rush them to the doctor and not to sit there and form a task force and debate what to do. When it comes to Long Island’s drinking water, we cannot wait a year or even six months for government to find a solution, we need one now.

Our state and local officials must find, and put in a room, the most experienced professionals on this issue and implement a solution to eliminate this and other toxins from our drinking water. Further, they must educate the public, who up to now is mostly unaware of what is in their water.

The public, for its part, must demand immediate action from their state and local legislators by calling and writing their offices. After all this is an election year and many will be listening more intently to the voters.

Given what we know about the chemicals found in our water, we don’t have time for a bureaucratic hustle. It will be up to the residents to push their elected leaders to get solutions.

Motion without progress is not an option in this case.

Anthony Figliola is an economic development expert and co-author of “Patronage, Waste and Favoritism – A Dark History of Constitutional Conventions.”