Long Islanders know this summer’s record-breaking heat wave was intense. If you live in a house with central air conditioning, you’ll feel the heat when you step outside. If you have to cool down your apartment with a fan, you basically live in this seasonal furnace.
When things are on fire, people usually turn to water. But water doesn’t always help; it can get contaminated or overheated. And when things heat up, they boil to the surface.
Activists like Adrienne Esposito of the non-profit organization Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) are calling attention to the unique problems with Long Island’s water.
“[CCE] works on a wide variety of issues, from drinking water protection to the marine environment to reducing solid waste to waste water treatment,” said Esposito. “Long Island is ground zero for climate change impact. It sticks into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.”
As the Atlantic warms up, tides rise, and coastal homes are severely affected. Residents of beach towns have had to retreat from the rising tides.
“The rising tides pollute coastal water with salt water,” said Esposito. “Today there are higher tides than 10 or 20 years ago.”
These affect low-lying communities, which Esposito says affects communities on the coast.
“There are a lot of very small homes,” she says. “Some of them just couldn’t rebuild.”
The tides have also hit Long Island’s septic systems, and slowly causes them to overflow. As a result, climate change unleashes contaminants onto people. Carcinogens like 1,4-dioxane plague Long Islanders, and in 2020, New York State set a maximum contaminant limit for the chemical.
New York State has attempted to solve the septic failures. About 90% of its grant money to Long Island is going to the removal of 1’4-dioxane. In April, the state gave Manhasset $5 million to convert private business’ septic systems to a public sewer system.
Still, there have been roadblocks. The IRS has taxed septic grants as income. While the county supplies individuals with $20,000 to fix their tanks, the IRS counts the investment as income for residents. Esposito says the controversial IRS ruling will only hurt people trying to improve their own quality of life.
“This whole grant program was created for working-class people,” she says. “The IRS program is hurting them.”
Citizens Campaign for the Environment has flown to Washington D.C. and had meetings with Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Thomas Suozzi about environmental policy.
“Vote yes on the Clean Air Environmental Project,” said Esposito. “The last time this legislation was on the ballot was 1996, when Bill Clinton was President.”
The Water Authorities of Suffolk and Nassau Counties have allotted millions to water projects on Long Island. In April, New York awarded $2.7 million to Hampton Bays Water District for a water main, while the Water Authority of West Nassau received more than $31 million for sanitation.
A team of Stony Brook University scientists just announced a successful 10-year-project to restore Shinnecock Bay’s clam population and thus restore its water. Esposito has pointed out that a balanced ecosystem requires healthy animals, including predators.
Esposito shares multiple alarming facts like the fact that “75% of Suffolk relies on cesspools,” highlighting the severity of Long Island’s water problems. The impact on human life is also present.
“If you ate shellfish with [pollution such as] red tide, it could cause paralysis or death,” said Esposito. “Clean water is one of the few things that all Long Islanders agree on. We are against a ticking time bomb of water.”
Neither Suffolk nor Nassau’s Water Authorities did not respond to Shades of Long Island’s request for comment.