Seatuck sent a copy of the following letter to every New York Senate Member, urging each to support the proposed legislation (Bill S8170) banning household use of high nitrogen fertilizer.
Re: Letter Supporting Long Island Fertilizer Legislation A10276 and S8170
Seatuck Environmental Association, Inc. (“Seatuck”) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Long Island wildlife and the natural environment on which they depend. Incorporated in 1989, the organization advocates for conservation policy across Long Island and operates two coastal, public nature centers: the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip, where Seatuck is based, and the South Shore Nature Center in East Islip.
We at Seatuck urge our New York Legislators to support bills A10276 and S8170 that serve to amend the New York State Environmental Conservation Law to reduce the use of water-soluble, high nitrogen fertilizers on Long Island. The laws exclusively allows for the sale of low-nitrogen fertilizer (at most 12% nitrogen, half of which must be, less soluble, “slow release”) and prohibits the sale of high nitrogen fertilizer effective December 31,2019.
We cannot wait any longer to fix this problem. Nitrogen in the form of water-soluble nitrate is known on Long Island as public water quality Enemy Number One. 1 The destructive cycle begins as nitrate enters our groundwater and waterways from untreated treated septic wastewater and fertilizer runoff; with fertilizer accounting for as much as 77% of the input in some eastern, agricultural Long Island areas 2. High levels of nitrogen have been measured in our groundwater, bays and drinking water. Efforts to decrease the concentration of fertilizer-derived nitrogen are in effect, however, thus far, compliance is low and enforcement difficult.
Both Nassau and Suffolk counties derive their drinking water from the sole-source glacial aquifer beneath the ground. Average nitrate levels in the deep Magothy Aquifer increased from 1.14 to 3.43 mg/L from 1987 to 2005 and continue to worsen.1 The EPA’s maximum contaminant level for nitrate in potable groundwater is set at 10 mg/L in an effort to protect against blue-baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia), a deadly side effect of babies consuming formula prepared with water high in nitrogen. In adults, consuming this water can lead to decreased thyroid function, spontaneous abortions brain damage and cancer.3 Generally Long island drinking water meets quality standards, however, a small percent of wells in Nassau and Suffolk Counties exceed the 10 mg per liter of nitrogen as nitrate and must be capped or treated when found.1
The problem is much worse when considering the environmental effects of elevated nitrate in our surface streams, ponds and coastal waters. The effects of nitrogen pollution are more harmful to wildlife than humans. At levels as low as 2.5mg/L nitrate impairs water quality for wildlife.4 This decrease in water quality is mostly created through the overgrowth of algae.Algae, similar to plants, thrive on high levels of dissolved nitrate in the water column. Most grow uncontrollably as a “bloom” whereby they shade all other plant life at depth. Eelgrass is particularly susceptible and perishes in diminished light. Coastal salt marsh grasses will reallocate resources under excess nitrate, diverting energy away from the stabilizing root mass and towards the leaf blades. The loss of eelgrass and marsh grass root mass is catastrophic because in addition to serving as vital habitat, these grasses dissipate ocean wave energy, thus shielding us from destructive storms. Some of the algae that bloom are toxic when consumed by marine life such as snails, terrapin and shellfish and lead to massive die-offs of these creatures.
As local water quality diminishes, animal such as fish, crustacean and invertebrates must leave the area or perish. Upon cessation of the algal bloom, bacteria begin to consume the dead algae in much the same way as animals use food and oxygen to create energy. Often times, the bacteria use up all of the oxygen in the water leaving the water anoxic. The loss of oxygen changes the chemical makeup of both water and sediment and is generally lethal to those animals unable to get away.From a global perspective, it has been shown that nitrogen-based fertilizer is largely responsible for the 20 percent increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide since the Industrial Revolution. 5 Nitrous oxide, third most powerful greenhouse gas, is produced when specialized bacteria convert nitrate in fertilizer to nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.
Beginning as early as 2007, efforts been taken by Long Islanders to reduce fertilizer-derived nitrate in our environment. For example, both Nassau and Suffolk counties have prohibited the application of fertilizer from November to April or within 20 feet of a wetland.
Most of the bays surrounding Long Island are designated as impaired; that is, they are in violation of water quality standards.6 This proposed ban on water soluble, high nitrogen fertilizer is an important step towards stopping the flow of nitrate to our groundwater and coastal waters.
We applaud Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator Kemp Hannon for introducing this legislation and urge you to support the ban on soluble high-nitrogen fertilizer by approving Bill S8170.
We cannot wait any longer to address the fertilizer component of nitrogen pollution on Long Island; the time to act is now. Thank you.
1. Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources management Plan, Executive Summary, 1(2015). http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Portals/0/Documents%20and%20Forms/Health%20Services/environmental%20quality/water%20resources/Comprehensive_Water_Resource_Management_Plan.pdf
2. Lloyd, S. (2014). Nitrogen load modeling to forty-three subwatersheds of the Peconic Estuary. The Nature Conservancy. Final Report.Rouse, J. D., Bishop, C. A., & Struger, J. (1999). Nitrogen pollution: an assessment of its threat to amphibian survival. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(10), 799–803..
3. United State Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 10 May 2013. Basic Information about Nitrate in Drinking Water. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-10/documents/ace3_drinking_water.pdf
4. Rouse, J. D., Bishop, C. A., & Struger, J. (1999). Nitrogen pollution: an assessment of its threat to amphibian survival. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(10), 799– 803.
5. MacFarling-Meure C., Etheridge D., Trudinger C., Steele P., Langenfelds R., van Ommen T., Smith A., Eikins J., (2006). Law Dome CO2, CH4 and N2O ice core records extended to 2000 years BP. Geophys Res. Lett. 33, L14810.
Earlier this week, New York State Senator John Flanagan (R-Smithown, Current President and Majority Leader) introduced a bill (#6717) in the Senate Rules Committee that would void the 2016 Suffolk County legislation enacted to address the plastic bag problem. The Suffolk County law, which was crafted with broad stakeholder input and bipartisan support, imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in an effort to curb their use and reduce the proliferation and negative impacts in the natural environment. Similar fees have produced well-documented bag use reductions in other parts of the country and around the world. Please call or write Senator Flanagan and urge him to withdraw his ill-conceived bill. Contact information below:
Senator John J. Flanagan
- Mail: 260 Middle Country Road, Suite 102, Smithtown, NY, 11787
- Phone: 631-361-2154
Seatuck's June 16, 2017 letter to Senator Flanagan is below.
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Re: Senate Bill #6717
Dear Senator Flanagan:
On behalf of the members of the Seatuck Environmenal Association, I am writing to express our dismay at the recent introduction of Senate Bill #6717, which seeks to block a Suffolk County law limiting the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic bags. We find the bill troubling and misguided on several levels, and strongly oppose this ill-conceived proposal.
First and foremost, the assertion in the bill that the Suffolk County law “fails to address any environmental concerns” is plainly wrong. The adverse environmental effects caused by plastic bags are well known. From the devastating impacts to turtles, mammals, fish and birds that inadvertently consume whole bags (thinking they’re sea jellies), to the countless species that take in the increasingly small, even microscopic, pieces of the bags (sunlight breaks down the polyethylene bags through photodegredation), scientists are only beginning to comprehend the full extent of the damage that these and other plastic products are causing to our wildlife and environment (see, “Sources, Fates and Effects of Microplastics in the Marine Environment - A Global Assessment”, Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), 2015). Certainly this threat must be taken very seriously in Suffolk County where – from fishing to recreation to tourism – our economy and quality of life are heavily dependent on the health and vitality of our marine waters and coastal ecosystem.
The recently enacted Suffolk County law will reduce the use of the bags by as much as two-thirds. This estimate is based on well-documented results from similar laws enacted in the United States and in other countries. The direct result of reducing the input of bags into the stream of commerce is, simply, that fewer bags will find their way into the natural environment. Reducing the proliferation of plastic bags in Suffolk County’s forests, streams and bays produces a direct and tangible benefit to wildlife and the health of our coastal ecosystem. In this way, the law directly and effectively addresses a significant “environmental concern.”
Second, the Suffolk County law imposing a fee on the use of plastic bags was broadly supported by the people of the County. The legislation, which was carefully crafted with input from a wide range of stakeholders, enjoyed broad, bipartisan support in the Suffolk County Legislature and passed by a wide margin. It was signed into law by County Executive Steve Bellone without protest or controversy. It would be a brazen overreach of authority, in our opinion, for the state to now override the will of the people of Suffolk County, expressed through the local legislative process, by enacting the proposed bill.
Finally, the fact that New York State blocked the enactment of similar legislation in New York City and established a Statewide Task Force to consider measures to reduce the use of plastic bags should not undermine a validly established law in another jurisdiction. If the task force eventually develops and proposes a statewide measure that addresses the plastic bag problem (we understand only one meeting has been held to date) and such a proposal is successfully enacted into law, then the Suffolk County measure can be easily repealed and superseded. While the fact that a Statewide Task Force has been established highlights the importance of the plastic bag problem, it should not stop the important and meaningful progress that Suffolk County is poised to make towards a solution. Suffolk County has a long, proud history of leading on environmental issues – from DDT to bottle recycling, it has often acted first and paved the way for statewide legislation. Its effort now to once again lead New York State forward on an important conservation matter should be celebrated and embraced, not thwarted.
For these and other reasons, we strongly urge you to withdrawal Senate Bill #6717 and allow Suffolk County to implement the reasonable and effective measure it enacted to address the threat from plastic bags.
Very truly yours,
Enrico Nardone & John Turner
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Photo, Bags at Dawn, by Jonathan Kos-Read, 2015 All Rights Reserved