April 22 is Earth Day, when we come together as a nation — and a planet — to celebrate the natural world and renew our vows to protect the environment from harm.
In honor of Earth Day five years ago, the Herald developed a three-part wish list of actions that government representatives and private citizens might take to help clean up and preserve Long Island’s environment. This year, we decided to take a look back and see how we’re faring in meeting the goals on this seemingly lofty list.
Point One: Cleanup of the Northrop Grumman toxic plume.
In 2016, we wrote, “Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Department of Environmental Conservation must find a way to force Northrop Grumman and the Navy to clean up the toxic mess they left behind in Bethpage, Wantagh and Seaford. The toxic plume that formed during World War II beneath the old Grumman aerospace plant in Bethpage is steadily moving southward. Chemicals used to manufacture naval warplanes were carelessly allowed to seep into the ground. If the plume isn’t stopped, it will eventually reach South Oyster Bay, contaminating the fragile wetland ecosystem that hugs the entire South Shore and harming, if not destroying, the area’s fishing and clamming industries. The stakes could not be higher.”
We are happy to report that Cuomo announced a $406 million remediation plan in December among the state, Northrop Grumman and the Navy to clean up the plume. The only trouble: Doing so could take 100 years, showing us, in no uncertain terms, that it’s far better to prevent damage to the environment through government regulation than to allow polluters to have their way.
Point Two: An ocean outfall pipe for the Bay Park Water Reclamation Facility, one of two Nassau County sewage treatment plants.
In 2016, we wrote, “Our federal, state and local governments must — must — find a way to fund an ocean outflow pipe from the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, a county facility, three miles out to the Atlantic Ocean. The greatest environmental threat facing the South Shore is nitrogen-laden effluent from the treatment plant. Each day, millions of gallons of this wastewater pour out from a cement pipe in the middle of Reynolds Channel, just north of Long Beach. From there it is dispersed by the tides.
“The nitrogen accelerates seaweed growth. The seaweed, which grows to unnatural lengths, easily breaks apart and rots, robbing marine life of dissolved oxygen. There are now whole sections of the Western Bays that are considered ‘dead zones.’”
Today, we are happy to report that the county is moving ahead rapidly with plans to construct a $408 million pipe from the Bay Park plant under Sunrise Highway, in an abandoned aqueduct, and then on to the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant. From there, it will be sent three miles into the Atlantic Ocean.
Point Three: Nitrogen reduction.
In 2016, we wrote, “Local municipalities, businesses and even homeowners must take responsibility for the unnecessarily high amounts of fertilizers they pour on lawns to keep them emerald green. Golf courses consume vast amounts of fertilizer. So do homes. Any excess fertilizer that doesn’t dissolve into the ground is washed into street drains, and from there into the bays. Fertilizers also accelerate seaweed growth,” damaging the bays.
In 2021, we are happy to report that the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, a partnership among the DEC, the Long Island Regional Planning Council, and Nassau and Suffolk counties, has made significant progress in assessing the extent of Long Island’s nitrogen pollution and developing plans to reduce it.
So much more needs to be done, however. Homeowners can help by spreading only organic fertilizers on their lawns. The organics dissolve slower in the soil and do not wash away as easily as synthetic fertilizers.
Clearly, Long Island has made significant strides these past five years, which is cause for celebration. Protecting our environment, however, is a never-ending battle that we must win.
How it all began
In 1970, America led the way in founding the now international Earth Day movement. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, came up with the idea after witnessing the environmental devastation caused by an infamous 100,000-barrel oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969, according to the nonprofit Earth Day Network. On the first Earth Day — April 22, 1970 — some 20 million Americans took to the streets and parks to protest widespread industrial damage to the environment.