DON'T DRINK THE WATER (OR USE IT FOR COOKING, BATHING, OR BRUSHING YOUR TEETH)
Residents of West Hempstead, Franklin Square, and Garden City South served by the West Hempstead-Hempstead Gardens Water District were admonished this morning to stay away from the tap after the District discovered MTBE (a gasoline additive) in the water supply. [Click HERE to read the Water District's advisory.]
While MTBE, a fuel additive/oxygenate which was once used in gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels, poses known health risks, the Water District reports that "the level of exposure here is relatively low." [Readers are reminded that, for the weeks and months following 911, the public was advised that the air quality in lower Manhattan was safe. For those of you residing within the West Hempstead Water District's service area, we would suggest that you hold your water!]
The source of the MTBE in the water supply (generally from a gasoline spill) is not known, said the District's Supernintendent, however, the MTBE was traced to the District's Birch Street plant, which has been closed pending investigation and clean-up. The entire system is being flushed, with the District hopeful that residents can once again "enjoy" MTBE-free (or at least at "acceptable" levels) water by tonight.
Of concern to residents -- aside from the obvious potential risks to their health -- is the apparent laxity on the part of the Water District in informing the public of the problem in a more timely manner.
While the District's "Release" was dated "June 26, 2006 10:00 P.M.," it was not furnished to media outlets until the morning of June 27th. [Many residents first reported hearing about the MTBE find through a News12 Long Island report aired on the morning of June 27th.]
The Community Alliance learned about the water emergency through a source at Newsday, which first reported the story online at 10:39 AM on the 27th. Local radio stations began to air the advisory shortly thereafter.
The Water District's advisory did not appear on its own website until just before 11 AM on the 27th. [The sample from which the MTBE-tainted water came, it should be noted, was taken on June 23rd.]
"In this age of the Internet, and with the urgency to get information, be it about terror threats or MTBE-laden drinking water, out to the public quickly, I am amazed that the Water District didn't get word out to residents as soon as the report came in," said an astonished West Hempstead resident, who asked not to be identified.
To those who showered, bathed, brushed their teeth, or drank the tap water before the advisory, the District points out that "the presence of this chemical at these levels does not constitute an immediate health threat."
"Immediate," no. But don't blame the Water District in 20 years, when your intestines start to glow.
While most residents found the news of contaminated tap water disturbing, and the lag-time in notification reprehensible, others were taking it all in stride.
One industrious resident, Kuldeap Krish Prasad of West Hempstead, determined not to let adversity get the best of him, began pumping tap water into 10-gallon drums early this morning, even before news of MTBE in the water was released to the public (it really does pay to have friends at Town Hall).
By 11 AM, Mr. Prasad, in a demonstration of good old Indian-American ingenuity, was pumping that tap water into cars and trucks along Hempstead Turnpike, selling the MTBE "oxygenated" water as gasoline for $2.50 a gallon.
"I have taken something very, very bad," said Prasad, "and turned it into something very, very good. Well, for me, at least." Prasad has pledged to donate 10-cents per gallon to the Nassau County GOP.
"Thank goodness for 'local control' over the Water District," said a member of the West Hempstead Civic Association's Executive Board, speaking on condition of anonymity. Yes sir, if it wasn't for "local control" of this Special District, residents might not have found out about impurities in their drinking water until sometime after the next election for Hempstead Town Supervisor!
Tell us, if residents of Franklin Square, Garden City South, and West Hempstead pay TEN TIMES THE GOING RATE for water service, do you think they could get potable water, or at least timely notice as to potentially hazardous toxins in their water supply?
Just another indication – and a most dangerous one at that – as to the woeful way in which the Special Districts operate. Up to now, it has mainly been about garbage collection. Today, its about that very sustenance of life, the water we drink!
For the latest on the water emergency in the West Hempstead-Hempstead Gardens Water District, contact District Superintendent, Robert York, at (516) 483-1180 or Peter Yatsyla, Office of Water Supply Operations of the Nassau County Health Department, at (516) 571-3323.
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For update and insight, read Emi Endo's follow-up piece in Newsday, Stirring up the waters, as republished by Water World.