Study raises doubts about future purity of Long Island's groundwater

One of the nation's most populous suburban areas -- New York's Long Island -- will have to come to grips with serious toxic pollution. According to a two-year study by the New York Public Interest Research Group Inc. (NYPIRG), permits issued to 1,453 industrial, municipal, and other chemical dischargers are "totally inadequate to control the release of toxic chemicals" into Long Island's groundwaters and surrounding seas.

The 250-page study found that:

* Contaminated landfills "pose a serious threat to Long Island water quality and the health of residents living in the vicinity of the dumps." While some of these landfills have been identified previously, this is the first report offering an in-depth analysis of them.

* "Local, state, and federal toxics monitoring programs have failed to assess the full scope of Long Island's pollution problems. Comprehensive testing is nonexistent for a wide variety of toxic pollutants."

* "A total of 66 industries [on Long Island with a population of more than 3 million people] avoid direct regulation under national and state pollutant elimination system permits by discharging nearly 10 million gallons per day of contaminated waste waters into 11 municipal sewage systems."

* "Most of Long Island's known toxic- discharging industries, major highways, stormwater recharge basins, and identified toxic-contaminated dumps are located in the critical recharge zone of the island's groundwater system. Toxics released in this environmentally sensitive area result in widespread pollution that persists for thousands of years."

NYPIRG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization established and supported by New York state college and university students, with a paid staff of lawyers, researchers, and scientists. The idea for research groups like NYPIRG originated several years ago with consumer activist Ralph Nader.

Copies of the report have been sent to New York Gov. Hugh Carey, state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Robert Flacke, US Environmental Protection Agency regional commissioner Charles S. Warren, and many others. As of this writing, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Health Department had not received copies of the lengthy report.

But Marvin Nailor, a spokesman for the Health Department, said: "More state resources are being committed to the protection and preservation of Long Island's fragile water supply system than any other area of the state," and that already some groundwater wells had been closed for public consumption because of alleged contamination. He also cautions against undue alarm.

Mr. Nailor adds, "Special laboratories have been established on Long Island to test the water and the state Legislature has funded a variety of studies. . . ." Long Island is probably the most tested area for water safety of any in the country.

While the study focused on Long Island alone, scientists who worked on the report say the findings on Long Island are indications of a nationwide dilemma. However, the findings are of critical importance to Long Islanders because they are "dependent on groundwater as their sole source of drinking water," says Walter Lang, NYPIRG staff scientist, a co-author of the report.

By failing "to regulate toxic discharges strictly," a summary of the report concludes, "open dumping of toxics in past years has resulted in the infiltration of toxic pollutants into all three of Long Island's underground aquifers."

Yet, says Joseph Salvo, another co-author of the report, even "if all toxic pollution is controlled tommorrow, Long Island's groundwaters are jeopardized by previously dumped toxics that will not dissipate from the island's aquifers for thousands of years to come."

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