Every time you don’t dispose of your trash correctly, drive your car even though there is a problem with it, don’t recycle as much as you can, have cesspools when you can use other methods of waste removal, where do you think all of this goes?
It may not be your problem at the moment any longer, but in reality it is. Now, it’s time to think ahead and how we need to decrease our pollution rates at the cost of our demise as a human species. The issue of pollution has not only affected Long Island, but even more so around the world. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people, and over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year. Now, I don’t find these statistics good, in fact I’d say that pollution is the silent killer that no one talks about. It’s amazing how we as a human population are slowly killing ourselves with the increasing amounts of pollution.
All of these factors listed above are the biggest pollutants of Long Island, and with every receipt you let blow away, every soda can you let fill up the landfills, and every mile you drive with your car leaking fluids is affecting not only the animals on Long Island, but our fresh water supply, and our bodies of water, in particular the Long Island Sound, in extremely negative ways.
The more research that I have conducted with various resources, the more disgusted I became with the human population and the amount of problems we have caused over the years. After many attempts at interviewing Sweetbriar Nature Center, and being turned away, finally I was able to attain an interview with the Environmental Educator at Caleb State Park, Linda Kasten. She has the responsibility of a developing educational programs for all ages, for in her words, “everything nature”. In an eye opening interview, she gave me an extremely detailed report on the biggest contributors of pollution, effects pollution has had on local fish and bird species, how past historical events that caused pollution are now catching up with us environmentally and causing issues, the depleting supply of our fresh water aquifers, and the importance of educating the younger generations about this to combat it. I also had an opportunity to interview with Paul Adams, former Deputy Plant Superintendent for NYC Department of Environmental Protection, in which his responsibilities included overseeing operations for sewage treatment plants in NYC, such as the 26th Ward. While interviewing, he gave me even more information on the effects that pollution has had on the waters, where it comes from, and how environmentalists have curved the ways of mankind to improve pollution.
The largest leading factors of pollution on Long Island are cesspools along with overpopulation. I wasn’t too surprised by this information mostly because everyone across the island has them. When you count in the amount of factories, hotels, restaurants, there is an overabundance of people with cesspools, which equals a lot of pollution. Long Island gets their fresh water from underground aquifers, which are now mostly polluted. As we pull more and more water out of the aquifers, the saltwater as well as the cesspool leakage begins to fill up and pollute where the fresh water once was. There is only about one untapped aquifer that is not polluted, and in a century or so, we will need to find a new source of fresh water. Due to overpopulation and pollution of them the water supply is depleting astronomically fast.
Every time the island floods, the cesspools become submerged in water, which then they seep into the water known as runoff. The runoff then flows into the open water (i.e. the Long Island Sound, the Great South Bay). Runoff also picks up all the debris on the way to the open water which could include different chemicals, oil, paper, garbage, etc.
The Great South Bay is heavily polluted due to direct pollution from runoff, and the bridges that cross over the open water. The Robert Moses Causeway Bridge is just one example of a bridge crossing over the Great South Bay that pollutes it. When your car drips oils onto the bridge, and then it rains, guess where the oil ends up. Not in an oil disposal, just right into the bay that the marine life has become affected by. In an interview with Paul Adams he said, “The runoff that flows into the Long Island Sound is mostly made up of fertilizers and chemicals, but also includes sewage. Because of the runoff, there has been an increase of nitrogen in the Long Island Sound, which in turn has depleted the oxygen levels which is killing off the fish.” Hold your breath for a few seconds, feel your chest burning from lack of oxygen, and well just imagine breathing in not enough oxygen constantly, just enough to barely survive. Unpleasant right, well the marine life in the sound feels that constantly.
Brown Tide is a form of algae that grows from phosphates in the Long Island Sound. Phosphates used to be found in laundry detergent until the detergent companies have changed the chemical formula about 20 years ago, according to Mr. Adams. Since the phosphates were not able to be treated with the Activated Sludge treatment, they wound up in our sound, and we are seeing the effects of the buildup of phosphates today.
All of the waste that you pour down the drains, flush down toilets, put in landfills has to go somewhere right? Well it does, to a sewage treatment plant. At the sewage treatment plant that Paul Adams worked at, they took 80 million gallons of waste per day and cleaned it through a process called Activated Sludge (sludge is a condensed form of waste). “The water is treated and 98% of the waste is now fresh, clean water when discharged back into the river, stream, and other bodies of water,” Mr. Adams stated when explaining how the sewage systems work.
Now you might be thinking what about the other 2% that is unaccounted for. Well before the 1990s, the 2% which is sludge, used to be placed onto sludge boats and shipped out to sea. They would take it 25 miles out to shore and dump it there before they realized the amount of pollution they were actually causing. One of the places it was actually dumped was the Hudson River, about 30 years ago. Now there is a new system in place for disposing of the sludge, taking the water out of it and forming it into cakes. After they form the cakes, they either take them to landfills, or make a hearty, healthy fertilizer for cattle grass. This new process has actually decreased the 2% of sludge that was already there. All of this information from Paul Adams has definitely given some information to think about when recycling and/or doing anything in order to decrease my pollution.
The issue of fresh drinking water is predicted for the future of this country if the issue of pollution continues to rise. Even though we are fortunate enough to have it now, for how long? There are other countries that have been affected by polluted water today, and for the past decade. Here is a firsthand account of the severity of the water pollution in Jamaica from Linda when she visited two years ago. “Two years ago in Jamaica, gorgeous country, we’re driving back to the airport and it’s pouring out. We come along to this stream, and garbage, garbage like you wouldn’t believe. The garbage piled in the water floating downstream into the streets of this little town that had garbage floating all over, everywhere. You couldn’t even see the water, just garbage straight out to the ocean.”
Overall our waterways are polluted and within the next century, this country who takes fresh drinking water for granted will become affected by polluted water if we just sit around and let the pollution consume us.
“Garbage Does Kill” (Kasten)
“Specific animals are having specific problems.” Linda Kasten.
Did you know that there are different insects that live in polluted water than fresh water? “Fresh water has so much more diverse life” said Linda Kasten. I answered with a follow-up question, “Is this one way in which polluted waterways are proven positive for pollutants?” The answer was yes. Worms, leeches, fly larvae, caddisflies, are just some examples of the different insects that feed and live off of the polluted waters of Long Island. The issue of pollution has been increasing in problem since the 1800s, the surrounding environment has begun to adapt to these changes in order to survive.
When hunting clubs were popular, Caleb State Park used to be one until it changed to a nature preserve; they had used lead bullets to hunt ducks. You might be thinking what does this has to do with anything now, but because of the lead in the bullets and the fact that the lead ended up in Caleb State’s pond, the pond is now filled with lead. The fish and marine life now have lead poisoning, and though not affecting the river, or having any harmful effects on the marine life that we know of yet, that does not mean that they won’t in the future. Yet, is the key word here.
The Piping Plover, a small bird that lives on the beach and just one example of an entire species being affected by pollution on Long Island. They rely on the beach in order to continue the species. They lay their eggs in the sand, using in a small hole that they have dug and leave them there to hatch. The eggs are fragile, which is why they have a natural defense mechanism, disguise. They blend right into the sand, and even if you know what you are looking for, they are nearly impossible to find, kind of like a Where’s Waldo. Even though the Piping Plover was suffering from pollution indirectly, their population was depleting fast and most likely would have become extinct if not for the great solution that mankind had to create in order to fix the problem that they created. As I explained, the Piping Plover lays eggs on beaches, and where does every person go during the summer when it’s hot out, to the beach. The overpopulation issue on Long Island has led to the overpopulation of beaches, and you know that not everyone cleans up after themselves at the beach. Therefore the beaches became polluted and the Piping Plover cannot lay their eggs, or they will get destroyed. “The more we inhabit our beaches and pollute our beaches, the less and less you will begin to see the Piping Plover, as well as other species” answered Linda.
The issue with the Piping Plover was caused by mankind, more specifically your fellow Long Islanders, and was solved by them, but only when the issue put the cute friendly bird near extinction. To compensate for the loss of their natural habitat, local organizations have built enclosures for the parents to lay eggs in and live in. It protects them from their natural predators, foxes, but also pollution and the loss of their land. By doing this, there has shown an improvement in the population of the Piping Plover.
When I asked Linda if she has ever witnessed such heinous effects on animals, she answered with a gruesome response. “I found a turtle here one time that had gotten a plastic pull tab from cans, stuck in his shell while his shell continued to grow. By the time I found him, his shell was like a figure eight and he was still alive…I don’t know how though.” Imagine that sight, like a turtle with a waist trainer on that never comes off, unnatural, but then again so is all the pollution. Imagine all the pain that the poor turtle suffered all because some idiot didn’t cut the tab, like they’re supposed to, and recycle it.
WHAT WE CAN DO
“Have you had any instances where you have had an issue with people littering here at Caleb State Park?”
“We have gotten quite lucky; we don’t have people come in late at night, which really help keep the park clean. On the rare occasion we will find a piece of trash, but I will say it’s rare. Now, I’ll tell you why. We have many volunteers, usually the scouts that come through here and do a park cleanup, but they usually end up disappointed that they found so little!” said Linda when asked specifically about her park.
I find that having a volunteer group come through a park and perform a park or beach cleanup helps keep the pollution in that area at bay. Places that are hard to regulate, or unregulated, such as the Kings Park Bluff, where most of my photos have taken place, have enormous amounts of pollution. The worst offenders are you guessed it, my wonderful, environment killing, and adolescent generation. We just love to throw parties there, at the Bluff, and leave all of their trash behind, including beer cans, bottles, you name it, and it’s left behind there. They are apparently too drunk or high to throw their trash away, which frankly pisses me off. Now, when I visit or want to go on a hike, I get to enjoy the wonderful aesthetics of it, along with the beer cans at my feet. Watch out the bottle broke and now there’s glass all over the sand, yeah not the beach I would want to walk around barefoot in.
By having a regulated park, or even a group of volunteers willing to pick up the trash, it helps decrease the amount of pollution that is found everywhere.
Also by teaching and educating our younger generations, on what pollution is and what we can do to decrease it. This is how Linda suggests we combat the monstrosity of issues caused by pollution. Simple little things such as shutting the lights off when you leave to room, or shutting off the water while brushing your teeth are the little positive actions that will help curb the pollution trend. Linda teaches these methods in her programs at Caleb State to the 3-5 year olds. She said that the amount of information that they have retained and performed was amazing to see. The reports that Linda gets back from parents about decreasing water use and the electricity bill is shocking. By the children using the domino effect (one child tell the next and so on), this might actually be the solution that we have been looking for. The only issue that Linda and I see is, are these actions working fast enough, or just keeping pollution from overtaking the world? I suppose only time will tell.
The bottom line is that we should have been fighting pollution since the beginning of time, but since we can’t go back in time, we need to look into the future and get in front of the issue. Whether it be educating the youth, designing an even better sewage system, or organizing park cleanups, everyone needs to contribute and help combat the issue of pollution at the expense of the destruction of our planet.