The Western Bays, an ecosystem suffering from all sides

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Constructed in 1949, the Bay Park plant is a leading cause of pollution in the bays, experts say. According to an October 2011 Citizens Campaign report, the plant received 119 violations from 2005 to 2010, the most of all Long Island sewage treatment plants. Sandy laid bare Bay Park’s shortcomings. During the hurricane, the plant flooded and went offline, causing millions of gallons of raw sewage to back up into streets, homes and throughout the bays.

According to Nassau County officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has to date granted $810 million to repair and upgrade the plant after the storm. The EPA, however, recently rejected a $690 million proposal by the DEC to build a three-mile-long outflow pipe that would send treated wastewater from the plant three miles into the Atlantic Ocean, where it would disperse harmlessly into deeper waters.

No matter how the plant is upgraded, people must watch what they put down their drains, according to Swanson. Sewage treatment plants are designed to deal primarily with organic waste, not the foreign objects that people often throw down their drains. Scientists have found evidence that male fish in the bays are acquiring female characteristics because of chemical pollutants from household products. “There’s some evidence [that] there’s been feminization of fish, and it comes from things like birth control pills getting into the sewage that are not treated,” said Swanson.

A street-level problem

In addition, oil, grease, trash, pesticides and herbicides from lawns, and soap and wax from washed cars are sent streaming from street drains into the bays. “If you drop a cigarette butt on the street, it’s going down the storm drain for a fish to eat,” said Devorah Crupar, a member of the Freeport-based Operation SPLASH (Stop Polluting Littering and Save Harbors), a non-profit, all-volunteer organization. “All of the water in the street that goes down the storm drain comes directly to the bays and it’s not filtered.”

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