Schumer calls on EPA to clean up L.I. Sound

By Jasmina Dzurlic and Lauren Pardee

Last month, U.S Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, and Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth asked for federal funds to clean up the Long Island Sound. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already approved a program called the Nitrogen Reduction Strategy, Schumer said that the program has yet to be funded by the agency and asked for $10 million in the next federal appropriations bill.

On Monday, U.S Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, also asked Congress for $860 million in federal funds to support research labs that contribute to the conservation of the Sound. Dave Pincumbe, the EPA technical director, expressed the need for funding research in order for the EPA to set pollution regulations and restrictions on nitrogen loading across states to save the health of the Sound. The loading system measures the quantity of nitrogen entering the Sound. Nitrogen is a naturally occurring element that is essential for growth and reproduction in both plants and animals yet too much cause damages to the ecosystem.

Today, Long Island Sound lies in the midst of one of the most densely populated areas of the United States, with nearly 9,000,000 people, diverse wildlife, flourishing commercial fisheries and boating communities. Over the past 20 years, federal, state and local partners have worked together to reduce 40 million pounds of annual discharge of nitrogen. This has restored 1635 acres of the Sound, reopened 317 miles of fish habitats, and involved hundreds of thousands of people in education and volunteer projects.

The Long Island Sound brings in an annual revenue of about $5.5 billion. Over the past year, a collection of new policies issued by the EPA have been put into place to restore the Sound after extensive pollution damage. Now that the conservation plan has been constructed, funding is the next step for cleaning up the body of water.

The main sources of nitrogen come from sewers, fertilizers, septic tanks, and poor rain drainage systems. An estimated 74 percent of  Nassau County’s residents rely on septic tanks and cesspools rather than municipal treatment plants. Excessive nitrogen in drinking water, known as nitrate, can also result in restriction of oxygen transport in the bloodstream and is especially dangerous for infants under the age of 4 months who lack the enzyme necessary to correct this condition — “blue baby syndrome”.

“If the Long Island Sound were in pristine condition, it could be a trillion dollar estuary,” said Harry Yamalis, the Connecticut Habitat Restoration coordinator.

Poor water quality can lead to the closure of beaches and other activities such as fishing, shellfishing and crabbing.

“Depending on the cause, poor water quality could lead to excessive mosquito breeding,” Yamalis said. “Property values may drop compared with waterfront areas with good water quality; these properties may also become hard to sell – more economic impacts.”

All these factors deter people from living and vacationing on the sound which is a huge impact to the local economy. In efforts to restore the health of the Sound, the EPA, New York and Connecticut formed the Long Island Sound Study (LISS) in 1985, a bi-state partnership consisting of federal and state agencies, concerned organizations, and individuals dedicated to restoring and protecting the Sound.

Coinciding with Schumer’s plan for cleaning up the Sound, the EPA held a public meeting at the Stamford Government Center on April 13th in Connecticut to discuss details on its proposed Long Island Sound Nitrogen Strategy and to welcome feedback on its approach. The panel consisted of Mark Tedesco, the EPA Long Island Sound office director, the Lynne Hamjian, EPA deputy office director of Ecosystem Protection, and Dave Pincumbe, the EPA environmental engineer — all of whom were there to explain the plan and answer questions.

“We have made incredible progress here in Connecticut and New York,” said Lynne Hamjian, the EPA water director. She explained the EPA must get all neighboring states on board with their action plan to restore the Sound.

“We are starting to see a leveling off and slight improvements in our approach,” Hamjian said. “Increasing nitrogen reductions is the EPA’s main goal through this process as we implement a system wide strategy to target the Long Island Sound.”