Friday, October 05, 2007

Lunch and an Update on Long Island Sound's Problems

I went to the SoundWaters lunch program at Stamford’s UConn campus (if campus is the right word for a big building on the site of the old Bloomingdale’s) to hear Mark Tedesco, director of EPA's Long Island Sound office, talk about “what we think we know about Long Island Sound,” as he put it.

Here are some factoids:

There are six to eight times more nitrogen entering the Sound now than in pre-colonial times. (Nitrogen of course is the cause of the Sound’s hypoxia problem.) Since 1994, though, there’s been a 25 percent reduction in the amount of nitrogen that we put into the Sound, mainly through sewage treatment plants. This seems to have caused a slight improvement in water quality although it’s hard to tell for sure because conditions vary a lot from year to year. The nitrogen reduction goal is 58.5 percent, by 2014.

Testing in recent summers has shown that PCB concentrations in striped bass and bluefish have continued to fall and are lower than the last big round of testing, in 1994. As a result, New York and Connecticut are reconsidering their health advisories for people who eat those fish. Right now there’s one health advisory for Connecticut’s part of the Sound and another for New York’s part of the Sound, which raises the question of what do you do if your boat is near the state line in Byram and your fishing line stretches across into Port Chester – if you catch a bass big enough to keep do you follow New York’s advisory or Connecticut’s? To resolve this obvious absurdity, the states are trying to come up with one Long Island Sound health advisory. Mark, by the way, referred to PCBs as a “legacy contaminant,” although he was polite enough not to point out that the probable carcinogens are the legacy of GE, one of whose subsidiaries – GE Money – was a sponsor of SoundWaters’ program yesterday, presumably paying in part for the sandwich I ate.

Lobstering is still bad, although it might possibly be getting a tiny bit better (here's a Hartford Courant column that talks about the issue today).

Boaters have a lot more places to dump out their vessels’ heads than directly into the water: there are now 142 pump-out facilities on the Sound, compared to 42 about 15 years ago.

It’s well-known that bacteria and other pathogens get washed into the Sound each time it rains. Monitoring by officials who oversee Connecticut’s shellfish program seems to indicate that more pathogens are reaching the Sound now than before – in other words, a one-inch rainfall now carries more pathogens into the Sound than a one-inch rainfall did, say, 20 years ago.

I should add that I don’t go to many of the SoundWaters lunch programs, but every time I do it’s worthwhile. A lot of the credit has to go to Dianne Selditch, who like me used to make her living as an honest newspaper reporter (she was covering the hypoxia stuff for the Stamford Advocate when it was first making news 20 years ago) and now works for a non-profit (she directs the SoundWaters center, at Cove Island Park in Stamford). Get on her e-mail list to find out what programs they’re working on for the future.


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