What's in the Water: Private sewage-treatment plants discharging excessive nitrogen

Commercial sewage-treatment plants are discharging excessive nitrogen into Long Island's groundwater, a News 12/Newsday investigation found.

Experts say excess nitrogen is the top threat to Long Island's groundwater, although the levels recorded are not yet unsafe for humans.

Experts say excess nitrogen is the top threat to Long Island's groundwater, although the levels recorded are not yet unsafe for humans. (12/15/15)

WOODBURY - Commercial sewage-treatment plants are discharging excessive nitrogen into Long Island's groundwater, a News 12/Newsday investigation found.

According to the investigation, numerous plants dump improperly treated wastewater directly into the ground - which houses the source of all of Long Island's drinking water.

In Suffolk County, officials have declared protecting the supply a top priority, but Health Department records examined by News 12 Long Island and Newsday show that dozens of plants repeatedly exceeded nitrogen limits in the water they discharged.

On-site plants in housing co-ops, office buildings, nursing homes and even a fitness center released water with up to nine times the legally permitted concentration of nitrogen, according to records.

Experts say excess nitrogen is the top threat to Long Island's groundwater, although the levels recorded are not yet unsafe for humans.

According to Chris Gobler, of Stony Brook University, high levels of nitrogen can seep into streams and bays, leading to growth of microalgae and phytoplankton that cause the unsightly brown and red tides.

"It can be directly toxic to marine life," Gobler said.

And while the levels have not yet become dangerous to humans, the investigation also found that enforcement actions can take years to come about. During that time, the broken plants continue to discharge polluted water.

The worst record found in the News 12/Newsday investigation belonged to North Isle Village, a co-op that exceeded nitrogen limits nearly every month since 2011.

An attorney for the co-op told News 12 and Newsday that the plant is being replaced before he stopped returning calls.

The county does have the power to impose heavy fines on violators, but records show it usually chooses not to.

For 48 nitrogen-limit violations over the past four years, North Isle paid only $6,000 in fines. Other repeat offenders paid similarly low penalties.

Health officials say they've increased enforcement efforts with the goal of repairing or replacing all broken plants within two years, but some environmentalists say the pollution that's already been released is spreading.

advertisement | advertise on News 12

Top 5 Must See

Police say a truck skidded off the road 1 Police: 1 dead in Mount Sinai crash
Police say they found heroin on Paul 2 Hampton Bays wrestling coach arrested on drug charges
Members of the Fort Salonga Property Owner's 3 Residents debate over Fort Salonga golf course housing proposal
Today's meeting was the first held by the 4 Hempstead IDA announces public hearing on mall tax break
Valerie Sanks and her friends are collecting 10,000 5 Rocky Point woman, friends collect blankets for dogs

advertisement | advertise on News 12

More News

There are questions in Suffolk because of cutbacks What's in the Water: Follow-Up Investigation

When you turn on the tap, you expect the water to be clean and healthy.

Environmental experts say nitrogen is the biggest threat Water quality conference held in Oakdale

A water quality conference was held Thursday in Oakdale to discuss threats to Long Island's

According to the report, ground water, the only Report: Suffolk groundwater problems worsening

According to the report, ground water, the only source of drinking water on Long Island,

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to News12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service Electric℠ video customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE