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.