Bravo to New York state voters for overwhelmingly passing a ballot referendum last week adding wording to the New York Constitution’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing the right to clean water, air and a healthful environment.
The measure passed with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Some 1.9 million New Yorkers voted for it, while roughly 860,000 voted against it.
Clearly, New Yorkers were signaling that, yes, they care about the environment, and yes, they would like to protect it.
Here’s the challenge: It’s one thing to put to paper that you care about the environment. It’s another thing entirely to act, day in and day out, in a manner that actually protects the environment. Each of our daily actions — many of them seemingly small — can either contribute to protecting our environment or potentially do irrevocable harm.
Take washing your car, for example. How you wash it can have a profound effect on the environment, particularly the wetlands that hug Long Island’s shores.
Here we must pause and offer high praise to the Village of Garden City, which is among the few local municipalities to prohibit residents from cleaning their cars on public streets. It’s a critical local ordinance. Washing your car in your driveway damages the environment, because everything that is washed from it streams into the storm drains — from the soap and polish to oil, grease and gasoline — and eventually winds up in the wetlands and bays surrounding the Island.
While there are eco-friendly biodegradable soaps, many are poisonous to marine life, often with a host of cancer-causing ingredients, from naphthalene to perchloroethylene and methylene chloride, and the phosphates that several soaps contain accelerate seaweed growth. When the seaweed reaches unnatural lengths, it breaks apart in the saltwater and rots, robbing fish of dissolved oxygen, creating dead zones in local bays.
Washing your car by hand also wastes a great deal of water compared with professional car washes, which, as a matter of sound business practice, recycle 90 percent of their water. Additionally, the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 requires car washes to route wastewater to treatment facilities “designed to protect the environment,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
To understand the scope of the issue at hand, we point to the Town of Hempstead, which has jurisdiction over the wetlands across Nassau’s South Shore, from Atlantic Beach in the west to Seaford in the east. That’s more than 180 miles of coastline and 17,000 acres of wetlands. Anything that seeps down through the storm drains winds up there.
We would encourage any officials in charge of Nassau’s villages, towns and cities to think hard about following Garden City’s example and prohibit residents from washing their cars in their driveways.
The Town of Oyster Bay, which has jurisdiction over wetlands on both the north and south shores, addresses the issue on its Storm Water Runoff and Water Quality website, saying residents should wash their cars on their lawns rather than in their driveways. At least then the wastewater doesn’t wash into the streets, wetlands and bays, the logic goes. The State Department of Environmental Conservation offers the same suggestion.
The trouble is, the practice is about as damaging to Long Island’s environment as washing your car in your driveway. Toxins slowly seep through the soil into groundwater and, eventually, the aquifers that we depend on for our drinking water. The aquifers are massive stores of underground water, deposited tens of millions of years ago. Without them we would need to import our drinking water from off Long Island, at an exorbitant cost.
Bottom line: Wash your car at a professional car wash. You might pay a little more, but you’ll save yourself precious time, you’ll support an important local business, and you’ll help save the environment.
Following this most recent election, we hope our government leaders from across Nassau County will double down on their efforts to protect the environment. We only have one Earth.