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New efforts for clean water

Water district officials in West Hempstead, Franklin Square discuss quality issues


Construction workers have put their shovels in the ground at the West Hempstead Water District’s 7th Street facility in Garden City South to install two wells. In addition, the water district installed a hydrogen peroxide tank to remove its low level of 1,4-dioxane three weeks ago.

West Hempstead Water District Superintendent Jason Belle said that the work is part of the district’s continued efforts to ensure clean water for its residents. “Unfortunately, 1,4-dioxane is not easily removed from water,” Belle said. “Typical methods, whether it be filtration or anything like that, doesn’t remove it, so we had to come up with what they call the advanced oxidation process.”

Dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical that is found in personal care products, such as Tide detergent, which contains more than 50,000 parts per billion of the potential carcinogen. It has been discovered in more than 70 percent of Long Island’s supply wells since 2013. The advanced oxidation process is short-term, Belle said, and will run from May to September, at which point the wells will be turned off and construction will begin to install the permanent system.

Belle also said that when it comes to the installation of hydrogen peroxide tanks, engineers stick to the same format for most water districts on Long Island. “They kind of try to make it as uniform as possible,” he said. “Because there’s an influx of all these people ordering things, the manufacturers could make them as similar as possible so that there isn’t a long delay, because we’re one of many districts that deal with this.”

The West Hempstead Water District checks water quarterly for dioxane. Belle, who was appointed superintendent last month, said that his predecessor, Robert York, had instituted a more frequent testing program to address residents’ concerns over the contaminant.

“We’re happy and hopeful to have treatment up and running this summer,” Belle said. “While this construction is only temporary, we will beautify the facility once the pumping season is over.”

In Franklin Square, the water district has an air-stripper facility equipped with machines that remove all the volatile organic compounds from the water before it arrives at residents’ homes.

“When the water leaves the facility, there’s no volatiles,” said Scott Schemmer, the district’s assistant superintendent. The machinery, he explained, blows air from the bottom of a tank as water from the wells drips out from the top. Several Wiffle-ball-like structures hang from the top to separate out the volatile compounds, and convert them to harmless substances that can be released into the atmosphere. “It legitimately blows the volatiles out of the water,” Schemmer said.

But the air stripper isn’t the only tool the Franklin Square district uses to ensure that the water it produces is safe for the 20,000 residents it serves between McKinley and Marguerite Avenues in Elmont. District officials collect more than 600 samples of the untreated water from five wells and conduct more than 10,000 tests each year. When they do find contaminants, district engineer Dennis Kelleher explained at the Franklin Square Civic Association meeting on Jan. 28, they install structures to remove them.

“The district does whatever it can to make sure the water stays safe,” he told the residents who had concerns about water quality. “At this time, the treatments we have in place are sufficient.”

The air strippers, for example, were installed in 2009, and have since removed the low levels of trichloroethene that seeped into the water roughly 50 years ago from industrial contamination plumes. A granular activated carbon filter, which works like the filters on fish tanks, according to John Hughes, the district’s superintendent, has also been in place at its two wells on Theodora Street since 1989. The treatment has removed all of the perfluorooctanoic acid, which can cause cancer, from the wells. Additionally, district officials are proposing adding an air stripping treatment at the Theodora Street wells to remove low levels of freon 113, and are acquiring an advanced oxidation process system to remove 1.2 micrograms per liter of dioxane.

Under federal guidelines, one liter of water cannot contain more than the 50 micrograms of the chemical. State officials, however, are proposing setting the standard for dioxane at one microgram per liter. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen it go below five,” Hughes told the Herald.

To help meet that demand, the district recently received a state grant of $4.12 million for the AOP’s installation, and district officials have applied for a roughly $2.75 million bond from the Town of Hempstead to fund the rest. The bond is expected to be voted on over the next few months, Kelleher said, and once it is approved, the district would be able to install the facility, which would shine ultraviolet light on the water and add hydrogen peroxide to remove all traces of dioxane. District officials would then filter the water through another granulated activated carbon system to remove the hydrogen peroxide that was added.

“The finished product is good water,” Hughes said, adding, “The Franklin Square Water District would not pump water that did not meet standards.”

Anyone with further questions for the Franklin Square or West Hempstead water districts can submit an inquiry at https://bit.ly/2S7pgp9.