Monday, February 25, 2008

Toxic Water Flowing From The Tap?

Long Islanders Drink As Toxic Time Bomb Ticks

How safe is Long Island’s drinking water? No, really?

It comes from underground aquifers, not from pristine reservoirs in the catskills.

We’ve been dumping everything from pesticides to fertilizers to MTBE into it for well over a half century now, and yet, everyone, from the DEC in Albany to the local special district water commissioner, tells us that the water flowing from our taps is safe – safe to drink, safe to bathe in, safe from harm.

The old, “don’t worry,” as the number of polluted groundwater sites here on Long Island expands, concern over so-called “cancer clusters” grows, and remediation, let alone that watchful eye, wanes.

Not to sound alarmist, but just how much crap can we pour into our water supply and expect that it will remain potable, let alone “safe?” And exactly what level of MTBE, lead, PCB, or other toxin is “safe,” anyway?

Of course, with everyone in government telling us that our drinking water is the purest of the pure (and we know they’d never lie to us), and most Long Islanders either willing to believe it or too indifferent to so much as take notice (hey, its just a spill), who are we to complain, let alone be heard?

Hmmm. Perhaps this would be a good time to read Ibsen’s, An Enemy of the People, and to reflect upon that memorable, if not prophetic line, "...the strongest man in the world is the man who stands alone."
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Where the toxic spills are: Queens ~ Nassau ~ Suffolk ~ New York State
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Read The Community Alliance blog post, What's In Your Water?

New MTBE spills found to threaten drinking water

A study of Long Island groundwater pollution caused by the fuel additive MTBE uncovered 32 petroleum spills that had not been previously detected, including one in Ronkonkoma that state environmental officials said had threatened public drinking water.

The report, released yesterday by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, found that methyl tertiary butyl ether still threatens the aquifers that supply Long Island's drinking water -- despite New York's 2004 ban on MTBE.

The study called for continued monitoring of MTBE in drinking water and recommended more tests to locate other undetected spills.

The study was prompted by a 2002 DEC survey that found Long Island had more MTBE-contaminated spill sites -- 24 percent of the state's total -- than any region in New York.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency classifies MTBE as a probable carcinogen, but little is known about its effects on human health.

Thought to make fuel burn more cleanly, MTBE was added to gasoline in the 1990s in states such as New York that suffer from air pollution. Once spilled, it moves quickly through groundwater and is difficult and costly to remove.To study the extent of MTBE contamination in Long Island's groundwater, the DEC had monitoring wells installed at 52 Nassau and Suffolk gas stations between 2002 and 2006. Each station was within 11/2 miles of public drinking water supply wells and had no known history of MTBE spills.

Tests turned up new MTBE spills in groundwater at 32 of those stations. Sixty percent of the sites where MTBE was detected had concentrations that were below the state public drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion.

But 34 percent of the stations with MTBE exceeded that standard, and 15 percent showed concentrations of up to 500 times that amount -- levels that required immediate remediation.

Owners of two stations with particularly high MTBE concentrations refused to further investigate the extent of the contamination or clean it up themselves, so the DEC had to hire contractors, the study said.

One such spill at a Getty station on Portion Road in Ronkonkoma involved a plume with MTBE concentrations of up to 49,300 parts per billion that was headed for a public drinking water supply well about 1,400 feet away, the report said. The other spill stemmed from a Liberty Petroleum on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont, where a plume with concentrations of up to 240,000 parts per billion had migrated about 1,700 feet southwest of the gas station.

The DEC estimated that cleaning up both spills would cost a combined $2.25 million.

A man who answered the phone at the Ronkonkoma station Friday declined to comment. No one answered the phone at the Elmont station.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.


  1. You do know that in some parts of LI the water which flows out of the tap is over 400 yrs old

  2. And in some parts of Long Island -- notably, the Town of Hempstead -- so is the local government! :-)