A lookout H2O in the 516

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A lookout H2O in the 516

Gillian Rush

Gillian Rush

Gillian Rush

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It was just over three years ago when Flint, Michigan made headlines for its increasingly unsafe drinking water. Unusually high levels of lead had been found in the tap water, posing a threat to over 100,000 residents of the city. A federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016 and Flint residents were advised to drink, and to only drink, bottle or  filtered water for all purposes.  Thanks to an abundance of water treatment and after lots of national attention, the water quality has returned to an almost-acceptable level. For now. Closer to home, Port Washington faced an alarming situation a few years ago when, according to the Environmental Water Group, a tap water database,

contaminants were detected in the water

supply that can cause cancer in the long

run: 1,4 dioxane, chromium, and heptachlor


While the Water District has been

making great strides in terms of purifying

local water supplies in recent years, water

pollution has become an issue that’s no

longer possible to ignore. On Feb. 9, 2016, the Western Long Island Aquifer Committee (made up of officials from Port Washington and surrounding towns) wrote a letter to the New York State Speaker of the Assembly and Senate Majority Leader asking for improved water quality inspections.  The letter noted that Nassau County has 150 superfund sites—polluted areas that require long-term cleanup efforts—the most of any county in New York State. In order to understand the problems facing Port Washington’s water supply, it’s important to go back to the source. So where exactly does our water come from? According to the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report for 2016 from the Port Washington Water District, the usual sources of drinking water, which includes both bottled and tap water, are lakes, streams, rivers, springs, reservoirs, ponds, and wells. While the water moves through the ground or over the surface on land, it dissolves naturally occurring minerals. During this time, the water may also be combined with dangerous materials. These include remains from human and animal activity and radioactive material. As a result, a diverse variety of contaminants may be present in the source water, a few being pesticides, herbicides, and organic chemical contaminants. For the Port Washington Water District specifically, our main water source is groundwater. The water is pumped  from 12 wells, which range from 90 to 600 feet in depth. These wells are located at eight different stations across the District and are drilled into the Port Washington, Magothy, and Lloyd aquifers situated beneath Long Island. Though New York State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established regulations to limit the presence of contaminants in the water supplied by public water systems, some pollutants manage to slip through. The Nassau County Department of Health conducted an evaluation of both the potential and real threats to our drinking water source and found that one of our wells has a medium high susceptibility to contamination to microbes. “Sometimes I drink from our sink water even though I buy bottled water

from stores like Costco,”

said junior Hannah Roth.

“Knowing this now is making

me more worried.”

These levels of susceptibility

are likely a result of

transportation routes and

industrial facilities in the

area, as well as land practices

by residents like fertilization

on unsewered lawns.

“I think I’ve always just

been kind of wary about

d r i n k i n g

our town’s tap water

in general,” said junior Gaby

Chu. “The thought of pollutants and contaminants

getting into what I drink plays

a large role in that.”

But what about city water? Many believe

that the quality of New York City’s

water supply is better than ours since it is

imported, but is this really true? Unlike

Port, the city gets its water from a surface

supply system made up of

controlled lakes and

reservoirs located

throughout a watershed.

The overwhelming


of their water comes

from the Catskill/

Delaware supply,

which is of such

high quality that

filtration is not

needed to treat

the water.

Still, others

argue that the

possible negative

health effects

and metallic

taste from the

chemicals used to

disinfect the water,

namely chlorine

and fluorine, takes

away from the perceived

perks of city


Me a n w h i l e ,

though well water

also has somewhat of

a reputable reputation

for carrying natural

minerals, it is absolutely

crucial for well water to

be completely treated and

not have an excess amount

of natural minerals for the

safety and health of all of us.

As a coastal community, Port Washington’s

water supply is susceptible to a

number of threats. According to the 2016

water quality report, all of our twelve wells

have a high to very high susceptibility to

nitrates. In this report, 6.25 mg/L of nitrates

were detected. Although this is less

than the maximum contaminant level of

10 mg/L, the report indicates that nitrate

levels have risen above half of the MCL.

This is largely due to unsewered residential

land use, nitrogen-based land fertilizers,

and commercial and industrial

activity. In addition, these levels may temporarily

increase rapidly due to changes in

rainfall or agricultural activity.

“If we find that there are problems with

regulated contaminants like nitrates, we

take prompt and measured action to put

in filtration systems and keep everything

up to standard,” said Granger.

When nitrates reach bays, rivers, and

the Long Island Sound, it can cause excessive

algal growth that blocks light and

therefore depletes oxygen supply in the

water, harming marine life. High levels of

nitrates may also lead to blue baby syndrome,

a type of anemia found in infants,

decreased thyroid function, spontaneous

abortion, and cancer.

1,4 dioxane has also been a chemical

high on the Water District’s radar.

The synthetic chemical, which is used as

a stabilizer for industrial chemicals, can

also be found in laundry detergent, soap,

shampoo, and body wash, has not yet been

federally regulated, but has been found in

trace amounts in Long Island’s groundwater

supply and is still an issue of concern.

“We’re looking at creating an acceptable

standard for the chemical. It’s an

emerging compound, so new information

is constantly coming out,” said Paul

Granger, who sits on the state Drinking

Water Quality Council and is superintendent

of the Port Washington Water District.

“1,4 Dioxane isn’t removed easily

with treatment methods, and there’s no

approved treatment technology yet, which

shows how new this is for everybody.”

Not only has the federal government

failed to establish a standard for 1,4 dioxane,

but the state of New York also has yet

to make and enforce regulations. According

to the New York State Department

of Health, 1,4 dioxane is classified as an

Unspecified Organic Contaminant, and

although trace amounts of up to 1.9 ppb

have been found in Port’s water, the NYSDOH’s

maximum contaminant level is 50

ppb, which is substantially higher.

All Long Island public water suppliers

are required to test all of their supply

wells multiple times per year for 144 different

parameters, which include volatile

organic chemicals, inorganics, pesticides,

and herbicides.

On August 20, 2015, EWG pointed out

that the Town of Hempstead contained

amounts of PFOA, or per uorooctanoic

acid, a compound found in numerous industrial

and commercial products.

In a 2016 article called “The Lawyer

Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,”

the New York Times magazine referenced

Nassau County as a location with

a high concentration of fluorochemicals.

Due to industrial processes all over

the country that have been going on

for decades, exposure to small doses of

chemicals is practically inevitable.  The

article focused on PFOA and PFOS, or

perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, a similar


“If you are a sentient being reading this

article…you already have PFOA in your

blood. It is in your parents’ blood, your

children’s blood, your lover’s blood. How

did it get there?  rough the air, through

your diet, through your use of nonstick

cookware, through your umbilical cord.

Or you might have drunk tainted water,”

wrote Nathaniel Rich in the article.

Seniors Saige Gitlin, Ali Hoffman, and

Molly McLoughlin were inspired to conduct

a research project concerning the

effects of these chemicals after learning

about the presence of PFOA in human

breast milk.

“The chemicals are so harmful because

they enter the environment so easily,”

said Hoffman. “PFOA is difficult to

remove and builds up quickly because it

is non-biodegradable and has a high bioaccumulation

rate. BHT has a low vapor

pressure so it easily evaporated o of rubber

and plastic products and enters the


Over the course of their two-year project,

these students exposed PFOA and

BHT to aquatic and terrestrial organisms,

sea stars and earthworms speci cally,

and measured the effects of these chemicals

on the organism’s motility.  Through

their study, they found that both of these

chemicals caused detrimental loss of motor


“This decreased mobility decreased

the survival chances of these animals, and

also suggests that the chemicals could be

having a similar impact on humans,” said

Gitlin. “Because of this, it is important

that we  find ways to remove them from

our water and food supply.”

McLoughlin continued the project this

year, as she developed a filtration method

to remove harmful chemicals like PFOA

from the water supply.

“Because of their environmental persistence,

they have become very hard to

remove from water, so it is imperative

that a effective filtration system is made

in order to prevent any future harm these

chemicals cause,” said McLoughlin.

In order to avoid being exposed to

chemicals such as these, as well as other

possible water contaminants, there are

many filtration options available. Aside

from built-in home filtration systems, Brita

lters, as well as reusable water bottles

with their own filters, are both viable options.

Others look to bottled water as a safer

alternative to tap water. However, one

should be wary when considering the

benefits of bottled water versus tap water.

For instance, in 2012, Nestle was sued

as a result of falsely advertising their bottled

water as being natural spring water,

when it was actually just tap water. Furthermore,

almost 50% of bottled water

has been found to simply be purified tap

water, and many experts believe that tap

water actually has tighter regulations than

bottled water.

“Tap water is safe and federally regulated,

so people should limit the use of

bottled water because those bottles generally

end up in land fills, or the plastic can

leach into the water,” said environmental

science teacher Ms. Julia Brandt. “Even

recycling can be problematic because it

takes additional energy and resources to

process the bottles.”

In a poll conducted by The Schreiber

Times, 56% of students said that they

drink filtered water or bottled water at

home, while only 36% drink tap water.

As for when they are at school, 89% percent

of students indicated that they prefer

to bring water from home as opposed to

drinking water from school. If they do

drink water from the school, they prefer

to get it from the hydration station, as opposed

to the regular water fountains.

In response to the Western Long Island

Aquifer Committee’s 2016 letter to

New York State officials, the state established

a twelve-member Drinking Water

Quality Council this year, and because

Mr. Granger is a member of the council,

Port now has a direct connection to state

decisions regarding water quality. If you

wish to learn more about water treatment

in Port Washington, the Water District

makes annual reports publicly available online.

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