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Baykeeper Says Biotoxin is Linked to Cesspools

Kevin McAllister urges lawmakers to step-up to address the issue.

Two warnings issued by the this past week did not come as a surprise to Kevin McAllister, executive director of the nonprofit Peconic Baykeeper, who has been keeping a close eye on the Peconic and South Shore estuaries for years. McAllister said he has long advocated for laws that would go a long way toward preventing problems like those in the waters now.

McAllister, who has offices in Quogue, says the latest biotoxin, which affects filter-feeding shellfish, is a direct result of waste water, primarily waste water that funnels through residential and commercial cesspools, making its way into the groundwater, which feeds into the estuaries.

“These brown and red tides thrive on nutrients. Cesspools release these nutrients in the form of nitrogen into the ground water. This is a long-term problem,” said McAllister.

McAllister said that he has been advocating for new laws since last summer, when his organization released a report that addresses biotoxin.

He said biotoxin blooms does die off after a time and shellfish clean out freshwater, it doesn’t mean biotoxin won’t come back.

“This is a reoccurring theme, and it is showing up with more frequency and with greater damage potential. If we connect the dots, they all lead to waste water,” he said.

To remedy the issue, McAllister said new laws must be created to require state-of-the art cesspools for all new construction projects and land transfers. He also suggested that service plants be constructed in neighborhoods that 30 to 50 homes could tie into.

“There is cesspool technology that can lower the nitrogen released through waste water,” said McAllister. “I know this is challenging and that it is costly, but sometimes it needs to be done.”

And it needs to happen fast, said McAllister, who said if everyone replaced their cesspools today, a positive outcome would not be seen for years down the line.

The reason, McAllister said, is because ground water only travels between one to three feet per day. If a septic system is a half of a mile away from a tributary, it would take five years for the waste to get there.

McAllister says he has been shouting his message from the hilltops, speaking before officials in Southampton, East Hampton and Southold. He has also been before the Suffolk County Department of Health.

“The department of environmental conservation may say this is a natural occurrence, I say boloney.  We are polluting our waters.”

McAllister’s words may not have fallen on death ears. Just last week, after the DEC’s warning was issued, announced a new proposal that will use $140 million from the county’s Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund over the next ten years offset costs for new sewers throughout the county.

Levy said, “For years, we have recognized that sewers are key to economic growth, which is key to controlling people’s property taxes, and that sewers are essential to protecting our groundwater and our bays and waters.”

McAllister said Levy’s proposal looks positive and shows leadership in trying to address the issue.

“I am glad to see it,” he said. 

McAllister said he hopes that other officials will follow suit and take a hard look at the issue.

“I know it has political ramifications, especially in an election year and in this economic climate, but we are going to keep digging ourselves deeper into a hole, if we don’t start addressing this now.” 

the owl May 25, 2011 at 04:03 PM
It would be helpful to know what individual home owners can do to help with the issue. And what would be the approximate costs involved. Obviously anything we can do now to help preserve the waters for future generations will be based largely on getting correct information to homeowners and adivisng them of the kind of impact their addressing the issues might have on their current financial resources.
Ranger Sewer May 25, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Kevin is one of the very,very few who know what they are talking about. I work with alot of Homeowners and Businesses who give a dam about what happens to their waste after it has been flushed, and the funny thing is that they are the ones with the least amount of Septic Problems. It takes SO LITTLE to help the Environment SO MUCH. There are still people ( Homeowners and Businesses ) still judge the short term dollars to the long term PENNIES it costs to do thing correct. There are people out there who just don't give a dam on what happens when they flush, or what impact it has on our Bays and Oceans. Again, I want to make my self clear, Operating costs are way less with a Environment Friendly Septic System then people think. Even just installing a few items makes a difference! The next problem is all the ILLEGAL DUMPING that A LARGE AMOUNT of SEPTIC CONTRACTORS do, and NOBODY GIVES A DAM OR ARE WILLING TO STOP THEM. What they do and how and when they do their Illegal Dumping, and in plain sight does affect the bays and oceans. HOW COULD ILLEGAL DUMPING OF A HAZ MAT WASTE NOT BE A PROBLEM? Feel free to contact me. Ranger Sewer East Northport NY
Low tide June 01, 2011 at 12:56 PM
Let me preface my comments by saying that I have donated to and supported the work Baykeeper organization for some time. ... I am not a fan, however, of Kevin's grandstanding in the media. He seems to want to use the threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning to advance his cause to limit discharge into the bays in order to control harmful algal blooms. The fact is that this type of red tide, a bloom of Alexandrium, has been occurring for millennia and most likely predates the arrival of homo sapiens on the planet. Our discharge into the waters around us, however heinous, does not cause this bloom.... The brown and mahogany tides may exacerbated by our presence, just not the current red tide. Kevin does the Baykeeper a disservice with his "bad" science.
todd June 01, 2011 at 01:56 PM
Why have any discharge in the bay? Doesn't take much effort to pump out.
Deborah Klughers June 03, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Check out what Kevin had to say about wastewater on Keepin' It Green ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Psv8m6nqYC0
bob June 03, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Too bad I didn't see this sooner. Benja once again ramps up his conjecture and slanderous accusations. As a Trustee, I'd like to see your proof that I am acting in my own private interests? At the expense of water quality in the estuary? I can't believe the Patch allows that. Its one thing to post that you disagree with how something is done, but to accuse an elected official of ethical impropriety, in a public forum, without proof, is in itself improper. Perhaps Benja should concern himself with his own improprieties and run ins with the law. As far as working on water quality, Trustee Jim King has spent years working on testing and bettering the water quality in our creeks, even at his own expense. I've voted against raised septic systems, been vocal about my concerns with the septic issues in development by the wetlands, advocated for better septic designs, at times, insisted on salt water pools near wetlands rather than chlorinated pools, and tried to get land on a salt marsh protected via preservation, but turned down by the Democrat controlled land preservation committee. Yeh- all for my own private interests. might be time the Patch and Suffolk times start checking on Benja's posts. They are beginning to border on actionable libel, in my opinion.
bob June 03, 2011 at 04:47 PM
sorry- I though my name would come up on my Post- Bob Ghosio, Southold Trustee
Eva Salzman December 21, 2011 at 01:21 PM
I see here no proof that Southold and the "merry"band "oppose efforts to address...water quality." This and other reports say otherwise. The real "why" is WHY anyone would use personal attacks rather than presenting evidence why the efforts aren't insufficient. Someone who genuinely cared about the matter (in contrast to Southold who, ostensibly don't) would surely have suggestions not personal attacks. I see no proof here that anyone is acting for their personal interests. When someone makes personal attacks on those obviously working towards general good one's first thought is that that the attacker him/herself has personal interests or an axe to grind. Online sites seem to invite bile and personal attacks when what's needed is the will to take action.
Benja Schwartz December 26, 2011 at 04:23 AM
Facts are facts Southold Town Supervisor "red flagged" an offer of grant money to restore the Hashamomuck Pond because he did not want to appear to be supporting wealthy waterfront property owners. Southold Town Trustees granted a permit to deposit wood chips on Fleets Neck Beach. The private interest of the property owner is to turn the beach into a buildable lot. When the first permit was issued the Trustees excuse was "We had to give him something." Anyone who wants to can contact me to discuss the Wade case. Or the Tepper travesty. A house and deck built on the beach overlapping property lines on both sides with no permit permitted to stay because "We try to be nice guys." My memory is not perfect, but I am not making personal attacks. The actions and statements of Southold Town officials are hazardous to the environment.

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