Health

Legislator Kara Hahn speaks about the harmful effects of microbeads on Tuesday. Photo from Hahn’s office

A push in the Suffolk County Legislature to ban the sale of personal care products containing microbeads was met with unanimous approval on Tuesday, as state and federal lawmakers are also signing on to the cause.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) celebrated the unanimous vote on Tuesday for legislation crafted with the goal of washing the county free of the tiny, potentially hazardous plastic particles linked to several issues affecting waterways. She stood alongside environmental experts at the county Legislature building in Riverhead, referring to the new ban as a means of keeping Long Island and its surrounding waterways safe.

“There is no place for plastics in our vulnerable bays and waterways,” said Hahn, chair of the Legislature’s Environment Committee and author of the bill. “Microbeads have been found in our precious Long Island Sound, and my legislation will protect our environment, protect our health and protect our fishing and tourism industries.”

Microbeads, which are usually between one and five millimeters in diameter, are typically not filtered out by most wastewater treatment systems. This poses the risk of the tiny beads making their way into surface waters, picking up toxins as they flow from one source to the next. Because of their tiny size, the toxin-laden particles can sometimes be mistaken for food by small fish and other aquatic species.

But it does not end there.

Once the aquatic life consumes the potentially harmful microbeads, they could then make their way into larger living organisms and eventually into the human food supply.

The county legislation said that manufacturers of several personal care products have added the small plastic beads to their facial scrubs, body washes, toothpaste products and select soaps and shampoos over the past 10 years. Now that it has passed, Hahn’s law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, and prohibit the sale of any personal care products that contain microbeads in Suffolk County.

Six months before that deadline, Hahn said the Department of Health Services will begin informing retailers selling products that contain microbeads of the new regulations, and enforcement will come through random inspections of at least 10 retailers per quarter in 2018. Anyone who violates the law will be subject to a civil fine of up to $500 for a first offense, a fine of up to $750 for a second offense and a fine of up to $1,000 for all subsequent violations.

Microbead legislation has been gaining traction beyond the Suffolk County level over the past year, with elected officials on both the state and federal levels stepping up to promote the ban of such products. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman visited Long Island over the summer to announce the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, a bipartisan federal bill that would also ban cosmetics containing the plastic pellets.

Gillibrand’s bill had sponsors and co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, most of them from the Midwest, according to a press release from the senator’s office. It is similar to a New York state-level bill of the same name, which is Schneiderman’s effort to prohibit the sale and distribution of products containing microbeads.

Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Westhampton Beach that provides educational and recreational programs for youth in Suffolk County, discusses the effects of drugs and alcohol on the youth and student athletes at Legislator Sarah Anker’s Youth Sports Safety Forum. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Sports are fun until safety becomes an issue.

In light of two incidences in Shoreham-Wading River where children where harmed while playing sports, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hosted a Youth Sports Safety Forum on Wednesday, Sept. 30 to raise awareness of the issue.

The death of 16-year-old Tom Cutinella, who died last year after a collision on the football field, and an incident involving 15-year-old Jack Crowley, who was revived after he was struck in the chest with a baseball at the batting cages, sparked an even greater desire to help prevent these incidents from occurring,

Despite the poor turnout, as about 20 community members attended, the forum’s goal remained the same: to educate the public about keeping student-athletes safe on and off the field. The forum consisted of several speakers, including Anker, County Executive Steve Bellone (D), school sports coaches and athletic professionals.

Although student-athlete safety is traditionally perceived as the coaches’ sole responsibility, guest speakers like Rick Mercurio said parents and players are also responsible for an athlete’s safety. Mercurio is currently part of the Federation of International Lacrosse’s Development Committee and used to coach the Sachem High School boys’ lacrosse team.

He also admitted that coaches have the power to make a student feel stressed or happy.

“We forget that when we talk about safety … it’s not just about an athlete’s physical safety,” Mercurio said during the forum. “It’s mental safety as well.”

While athletes may jeopardize their own safety during practices or games if they feel pressured to go above and beyond for their coach, Frank McCoy, an orthopedic physical therapist from Advanced Sports Physical Therapy in East Setauket, said parents are also a source of pressure for student-athletes. He mentioned some parents may push their children to reach the professional level in their sport. He added that that pressure causes young athletes to surpass their own limits.

“They don’t want to necessarily mention that they have pain or that they’ve had some discomfort during practice or a game because they don’t want to be taken out of the game,” McCoy said during the forum.

Mark Passamonte, Frank McCoy, Dan Nowlan, Rick Mercurio, Legislator Sarah Anker, Kym Laube, Don Webster, Jeremy Thode and Dr. Hayley Queller were all speakers at Anker's sports safety forum. Photo from Theresa Santoro
Mark Passamonte, Frank McCoy, Dan Nowlan, Rick Mercurio, Legislator Sarah Anker, Kym Laube, Don Webster, Jeremy Thode and Dr. Hayley Queller were all speakers at Anker’s sports safety forum. Photo from Theresa Santoro

According to McCoy, 90 percent of athletes sustain an injury while playing sports and 50 percent continue to play when they are injured. Injuries from overusing parts of the body becomes a concern when athletes are pushing past their pain to appease parents or coaches. These types of injuries are usually preventable provided that athletes do preventative exercises, which they don’t always learn from their coaches or parents.

McCoy also mentioned that athletes should not play more hours than their age and should not play one sport year-round or multiple sports in one season.

Aside from resting the body, Jeremy Thode, the athletic director at Center Moriches High School, said positive reinforcement is also vital to an athlete’s safety. Student-athletes may suffer added stress if they are faced with degrading comments like “you throw like a girl.”

“We’re telling little boys — number one that they’re not good enough in their performance, but we are also saying negative things about girls,” Thode said.

The idea is that these comments may encourage young athletes to ignore their mental or physical discomfort or both to prove their worth in their sport or sports.

Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Westhampton Beach that provides educational and recreational programs for the youth in Suffolk County, acknowledged how drugs and alcohol may affect players — especially those who may not have family support or a healthy living environment.

Laube said they can’t build treatment centers big enough or fast enough to accommodate the magnitude of athletes struggling with alcohol or drug issues. According to Laube, alcohol is still the number one killer of high school students. Combatting this issue, especially concerning student-athletes, is a group effort since athletes may drink to relieve stress and anxiety, but are more susceptible to injuries 24 hours after they drink.

“We know that if coaches take a strong policy — if families take a strong policy, we begin to stop saying it’s just kids being kids,” Laube said during the forum. “It’s about wanting to keep them safe on the playing field.”

Anker not only agreed with the forum’s guest speakers on their concerns and viewpoints regarding safety in sports, but reemphasized the importance of keeping athletes safe and informing the public how to ensure the safety of young athletes.

“As a community, we must learn from past incidences and go forward to create safe programs for our young athletes,” Anker said in an email. “Everyone has the ability to protect our kids, however, if they do not have important information regarding sports safety, our children may be at risk for injury. By providing valuable information we can limit injuries on the field and keep our kids safe. I will continue to work with our sports experts to bring their information to communities across Suffolk County.”

This version corrects the spelling of Jeremy Thode’s name.

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Port Jefferson community members decked out the village in pink to raise local awareness of breast cancer and breast health. John T. Mather Memorial Hospital spearheaded the ongoing initiative, which is also raising funds for the hospital’s Fortunato Breast Health Center.

Eli Mollineaux, who was born with a rare condition called Pearson marrow-pancreas syndrome, smiles for a photo at Huntington High School after receiving a proclamation from the town for his positive attitude and high spirit despite his condition. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Rain or shine, 13-year-old Eli Mollineaux always has a smile on his face — even as he battles a rare mitochondrial disease known as Pearson marrow-pancreas syndrome.

On Wednesday, Suffolk County honored Eli for his sunny disposition despite his condition, with a proclamation. Now, the month of September is Mitochondrial Awareness month, and Suffolk County officials went a step further, calling the proclamation “Eli’s Law” in light of the Huntington native’s 14th birthday this Saturday, Oct. 3.

Eli’s birthday is yet another milestone for him, his family and their friends.

“The lifespan for kids with Pearson’s is around 3 to 4 years old,” said Alyssa Mancuso, a family friend of 10 years. “So the fact that Eli’s turning 14 is huge.”

Children with Pearson marrow-pancreas syndrome, an incurable multisystem disorder, have problems with the development of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow that have the potential to develop into different types of blood cells.

From left, Huntington School District Superintendent James Polansky, Principal Brenden Cusack, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, Eli Mollineaux, his mother Ellen, younger brother Sam, older brother Josh and Eli’s aide Ilene Messina, pose for a photo at Huntington High School while Eli holds his proclamation. Photo by Giselle Barkley
From left, Huntington School District Superintendent James Polansky, Principal Brenden Cusack, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer, Eli Mollineaux, his mother Ellen, younger brother Sam, older brother Josh and Eli’s aide Ilene Messina, pose for a photo at Huntington High School while Eli holds his proclamation. Photo by Giselle Barkley

According to Eli’s mother, Ellen Mollineaux, the “mitochondria is [the] battery for cells and [Eli] is missing a big part of that battery.”

Mollineaux remembers her son’s condition developing when he was a infant, as he was often sick and didn’t act like a typical child.

“Cognitively, I knew he was there, but all of a sudden he was sleeping more and wasn’t playful,” Mollineaux said. “[He] always wanted to be held and hugged and I knew something was wrong.”

After taking Eli to his pediatrician, a blood test revealed Eli’s hemoglobin level was around 1.9 grams per deciliter, when the average 6-month to 2-year-old child’s level should be around 12, which means his body was running out of blood. Mollineaux said doctors rushed Eli to the North Shore Hospital in Manhasset for a blood transfusion.

“It was as if they filled his tank up with gas,” Mollineaux said. “He sat up and within minutes; all the skills he didn’t have, he had.”

Mollineaux received the transfusion in September of 2002. While Eli was doing well for a few years, his disorder has progressed in the last several months. According to his mother, his tremors are getting worse, making it difficult for him to eat — especially his favorite food, soup. Walking is also more difficult.

Principal Brenden Cusack, left, and Eli Mollineaux, right, perform Eli’s daily joke over the school intercom. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Principal Brenden Cusack and Eli Mollineaux perform Eli’s daily joke over the school intercom. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Despite this, Eli remains positive.

“He will lose his balance when he tries to walk and he doesn’t say ‘It sucks,’” Mollineaux said. “If the doctor asks him… ‘How you doing?’ Even though he can’t walk [properly, he says] ‘Great. Everything’s good.’”

During an interview with media, Eli’s older brother, Josh, also commented on his brother’s sunny disposition. He said his brother is a happy kid who is indifferent to his illness.

The only thing Eli doesn’t like, is having his blood drawn.

Regardless of his hardships, thinking about school and seeing his friends is what keeps Eli’s spirit up. During an interview, he said art was his favorite subject at school.

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who was present at the press conference where Eli received his proclamation, said “Eli’s Law” will honor Eli’s courage, while bringing awareness to his condition. Spencer said that Eli and his spirit is inspiring, and gives hope to those who are battling their own adversities.

Although his current prognosis is not very good, Ellen Mollineaux said her family clings to their motto.

“Nobody knows their future,” she said. “That’s like our motto. No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Horrible things happen every day and we just move on.”

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Traces of the potentially hazardous legionella bacteria have been found in cooling towers at both high schools in the Smithtown Central School District, Superintendent James Grossane said Thursday.

In a statement sent out to district parents and posted on the district’s website, Grossane said a state engineer collected samples Wednesday morning that confirmed “detectable concentrations of the Legionella bacteria” in cooling towers, which come into contact with their respective schools’ water systems at the Smithtown East and Smithtown West high school buildings.

The samples were collected as part of a safety precaution required by the New York State Department of Health.

The superintendent added that the incidents were isolated only to the towers and did not spread into their respective schools’ water supplies or the greater Smithtown area, and there have not been any reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria, at either school.

“The only areas affected were the cooling towers, which are now back up and running safely,” Grossane said in the statement.

The inspection came in response to the recent outbreak of illness caused by Legionella bacteria in the Bronx, in order to prevent a greater spread of the bacteria throughout the state, the Smithtown superintendent said. The Department of Health issued an emergency regulation over recent weeks requiring the registration, testing, inspection and certification of cooling towers throughout the region, prompting the Smithtown inspection and ultimate discovery of the bacteria.

The superintendent sent out an automated voice message to parents throughout the district assuring that both cooling towers were safe for students and staff at the high schools and will continue to be maintained twice monthly. Grossane also said the district took voluntary steps to complete an “offline system decontamination,” which included an additional chlorine treatment, a system drain and flush, manual surface cleaning, refilling with treated water and re-establishing treatment.

“Follow-up monitoring will be performed in accordance with the new regulation, which does include retesting as verification of the treatment,” Grossane said in the statement.

The Legionella bacteria can cause respiratory disease that could lead to health complications like pneumonia, which is sometimes fatal. Fewer than 100 cases are reported each year, typically in upstate New York, and most cases are singular isolated incidents, the Smithtown Central School District said. The bacteria exist naturally in water and moist soil and can be spread through the air from a soil or water source.

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The Village of Port Jefferson will be awash in pink all through October as part of John T. Mather Memorial Hospital’s breast cancer awareness and outreach called “Paint Port Pink.”

The event’s mission is to stress the importance of screening, early detection and education about breast cancer and to help raise funds for the Fortunato Breast Health Center Fund for the Uninsured at Mather. “Paint Port Pink allows Mather Hospital to build on our breast cancer outreach efforts by involving the entire community in a month-long campaign that is highly visible and offers important breast health information,” said Mather board member Judith Fortunato. Participating partners will distribute breast cancer education cards containing information on breast self-exams.

Paint Port Pink is presented by Astoria Bank with the support of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates, Long Island Physician Associates, LI Anesthesia Physicians, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, People’s United Bank, Suffolk Plastic Surgeons, The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation, A World of Pink, Empire National Bank, Gordon L. Seaman and Harborview Medical Services.

Many activities will be held throughout the month to bring the community together. To kick off the event, a Tree Lighting Ceremony will be held at Village Hall tonight (Oct. 1) at 6:30 p.m. Mayor Margot Garant and Mather board member Judith Fortunato will flip the switch to light up the Village Hall tree in pink lights. All are invited. Local schools will provide music, and a flock of pink flamingos will make an appearance.

At the same time, merchants will be displaying pink lights in their windows. The water in the downtown fountains will be “pinked” with environmentally safe dye. Village Hall, the Village Center, the Port Jefferson Ferry Terminal and Mather  Hospital will be illuminated by pink spotlights. Theatre Three’s marquee will blink with pink lights. In addition, pink banners will adorn the light poles and some restaurants will offer special pink drinks.

Through Oct. 31, several events will raise funds to benefit the Fund for the Uninsured at the Fortunato Breast Health Center as well as breast cancer treatment services at Mather. Students at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will launch their “Your Change Can Make a Change” promotion, collecting change using the Center’s giant hourglass while Port Jefferson Middle School students will sell and wear pink shoe laces and Frisbees.

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School cheerleaders and the Student Organization will begin their “Flamingo Flocking” fundraising campaign. The pink plastic suburban icons will be placed on the lawns of friends and supporters along with a note explaining that friends or family paid to have them “flocked” and explaining that if they make a donation, the flock will migrate to any yard they choose.

The 9th annual Pink Rock Golf Classic at the Port Jefferson Country Club will be held on Oct. 5. Registration is at 11 a.m. followed by a barbecue lunch at 11:30 am and a shot gun start at 1 p.m.

Mather Hospital’s 50th annual Gala, One Enchanted Evening, will be held on Oct. 23 at the Hyatt Regency Long Island, Hauppauge, from 7 to 11 p.m. The gala will include the presentation of the Community Service Award and Theodore Roosevelt Awards for service to the hospital and the community.

Finally, on Oct. 29, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Director of Research David L. Spector, Ph.D., will speak about his research on “Searching for New Ways to Halt the Progression of Breast Cancer” at a free educational seminar at Mather Hospital’s new Long Island Anesthesia Physicians Conference Center starting at 6:30 p.m. For more information or to register, call 631-686-7878.

 

‘Victory at Ojai’ by Marge Governale. Image from North Shore Art Guild
‘Victory at Ojai’ by Marge Governale. Image from North Shore Art Guild

Tales of survival and hope at North Shore Art Guild’s latest exhibit
Mather Hospital has also teamed up with the North Shore Art Guild, the Village of Port Jefferson and the Port Jefferson Conservancy to present Artists United Against Breast Cancer, a juried art show currently on view at the Port Jefferson Village Center through Oct. 31. Featuring the works of more than 70 artists, the exhibit is inspired by the personal transformation, hope, love, fear, loss and victory associated with breast cancer. Choice of mediums included oil, acrylic, digital art, digital photographs and soft sculpture.

The show’s theme is “Victors of Survival, A Celebration of the Warrior Within Each of Us.” “Victors of Survival is not just about breast cancer. It’s about personal transformation, the person you become having faced the experience,” said Mac Titmus, vice president of the Art Guild and coordinator of the show. “It’s about the emergence of the warrior within, and the struggle that brings it forth. It’s about … how [the artists] choose to transform that passion into expression.”

Many of the artists in the show have been afflicted with breast cancer or have close family members who have.

One painting in the show stands out among the crowd. A woman stands atop a mountain, her arms raised in triumph. The woman is also the artist, Marge Governale of E. Setauket, and she is celebrating not only reaching the mountain’s summit, but surviving breast cancer. “It’s a painting of me right after I finished my treatment in October 2013, when I went with my daughter on a trip to Ojai, California,” said Governale.

In the painting, Governale’s hair is short, just growing back after chemotherapy. “I had not been exercising. My daughter said ‘let’s hike,’ and I made it the top of that mountain,” she said. It felt so good that I was able to get back to some of the things I loved after my treatment. That was a victory for me.”

“I only started painting because I had breast cancer,” she said. “Good things sometimes come from bad things.”

The winners were announced on Sept. 1. The judges included Judith Fortunato, Holly Gordon, Ward Hooper and Lori Horowitz.

Best in Show went to Len Sciacchitano for “What Will He Think.” “I remember the terror in my cousin’s eyes when she first told me she had cancer and a breast had to be removed. I can only imagine how she felt when she was faced with that diagnosis, the moment she heard, “You have breast cancer,” said Sciacchitano. “I’m sure it is a moment that remained in her mind for the rest of her life. I do not know how it feels and tried to visually imagine her emotions when she realized she needed major surgery and a portion of what she had known was being taken away,” he said.

Joanna Gazzola garnered first place for “Defiant Yet Vulnerable.” “I have had two friends and one relative who had cancer and who handled their illnesses with grit, determination and courage. One has survived for almost a decade so far and does walks to raise money for cancer research every year. The other two have passed, but provided so much inspiration to me,” said Gazzola. “I can only hope that I live and die with as much grace and thoughtfulness as they had,” said Gazzola.

Second place went to Zhen Guo for “Breasts are the Essence,” soft sculpture. Said Guo, “A woman’s breasts are symbolic of her multifaceted nature in many ways. They are the source of nourishment for infants, of warmth and security for her children, of sexuality and attractiveness for her mate. When they are injured, her whole being and all the people who know her are injured, too.”

Evelyn Adams, whose painting, “Unite & Fight For A Cure” won third place, said, “My mother passed away of breast cancer in 2008 at the age of 60. I became so mad with the disease.  However, as time passed by, I began to accept the reality of the disease and now I really do support the fight for breast cancer. Showing my support, I expressed my view for a cure in a special way. I cast my hand and then incorporated clay made breast, and also placed over 100 pieces of pink ribbons around a pedestal in which represent all families who are coming together and bringing awareness to breast cancer.” She went on, “Therefore, my main idea of this piece is to encourage viewers, families who had a family member died of breast cancer and those who are fighting breast cancer of hope for a cure.”

Honorable mentions went to Bernadette De Nyse for “Mortality Realized,” Joanna Gazzola for “Conflict, Denial and Understanding,” Neil Leinwohl for “New Blooms,” Lynellen Nielsen for “Grace,” Susan Silkowitz for “Abuela” and Angela Stratton for “The Protector.”

The Port Jefferson Village Center is located at 101A. E. Broadway. An artist reception will be held on Saturday, Oct. 3, from 4 to 7 p.m. on the second level with raffles, blind auctions and art sales. All of the artists have agreed to donate 25 percent of any sales to support breast health care at the Fortunato Breast Health Center of Mather Hospital. For further information about the art show, call 631-802-2160.

Stock photo

Thirteen more mosquito samples have tested positive for West Nile virus in Suffolk County, bringing the total this year to 192, according to Dr. James L. Tomarken, the county’s health commissioner.

The samples were collected from Sept. 15 through Sept. 17, from the following areas: three from West Babylon, one from North Patchogue, one from Selden, one from Patchogue, one from Port Jefferson Station, one from Setauket, one from South Huntington, one from Bay Shore, one from Islip, one from Holbrook and one from Smithtown.

One human has tested positive for West Nile this year. The 55-year-old man from the Town of Islip was admitted to a local hospital in late August upon experiencing symptoms consistent with the virus, according to a Suffolk County Department of Health Services statement on Sept. 11.

The virus, first detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk County in 1999 and again each year thereafter, is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

“The confirmation of West Nile virus in mosquito samples indicates the presence of West Nile virus in the area,” Tomarken said. “While there is no cause for alarm, we urge residents to cooperate with us in our efforts to reduce the exposure to the virus, which can be debilitating to humans.”

To reduce the mosquito population around homes, residents should try to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. Other tips include disposing of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers; removing discarded tires on the property; making sure roof gutters drain properly, and cleaning clogged gutters; turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use; changing the water in birdbaths; cleaning vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds and keeping shrubs and grass trimmed; cleaning and chlorinating swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs; and draining water from pool covers.

Most people infected with West Nile virus will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop severe symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis, according to Dr. Tomarken. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Individuals, especially those 50 years of age or older, or those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk, are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

There are a number of ways to avoid mosquito bites. Residents are advised to minimize outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wear shoes and socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods of time or when mosquitoes are more active; use repellent; and make sure all windows and doors have screens.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Suffolk County Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 852-4270.

For medical questions related to West Nile virus, call 854-0333.

To learn more about how mosquitoes are captured and tested for mosquito-borne diseases in Suffolk County, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtaO-GkF8Yc

To learn more about how mosquitoes are prepared for West Nile virus testing, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebOvsdiln-8.

For further information on West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health Services’ website: http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/HealthServices/PublicHealth/PreventiveServices/ArthropodborneDiseaseProgram/PreventingMosquitoBorneIllnesses.aspx

Officials gather to see the cesspool at Alan Marvin’s house in Nesconset on Thursday, Sept. 24. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone (D) gathered with public officials and members of the community on Thursday to celebrate the third annual national SepticSmart Week.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SepticSmart Week, which runs from Sept. 21 to 25, is a nationally-recognized week meant to inform and encourage homeowners on how to properly maintain their septic systems.

Suffolk County officials also hope this week will educate homeowners on how their septic systems impact local water quality.

“It’s a time to focus on the issues that are and haven driven water quality, and the issues that allow us to reverse the decline we’ve seen in our water quality,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County currently has 360,000 unsewered lots with cesspools and septic systems that contribute to nitrogen pollution in the county’s surface and groundwater, according to a statement from Bellone’s office. More innovative wastewater septic systems and updated programs will help reverse the decades of decline in the county’s water, the county executive said.

“This is a testament to the importance of this problem,” Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D- Setauket) said. “Nitrogen is seeping into our groundwater and reeking havoc.”

Bellone’s “Reclaim Our Water” initiative is one that partners with the liquid waste industry to overhaul the county’s liquid waste licensing program. Changes proposed to the licensing process would require training and continuing education for the many specialized services within the liquid waste field.

“These proposed training and requirements will create accountability and increase consumer confidence, as property owners can be assured that the company they hire has been trained to best service the specific septic system they have and protect Suffolk County’s ground water,” according to a statement from Bellone’s office.

Bellone said a partnership Suffolk County has developed with the Long Island Liquid Waste Association is helping improve relationships between the private sector and their customers in water waste management.

“It’s making sure the private sector is set with the tools they need to help homeowners with these new advanced waste water septic systems,” Bellone said.

Other members of Suffolk County government were excited by the new water quality initiatives.

“We’re involved in a historic initiative in Suffolk County to address a serious threat to our environment and our economy,” Peter Scully, deputy county executive for water quality said. “We’re always happy and anxious to work with the private sector on solutions.”

This event was held at Nesconset resident Alan Marvin’s home. Officials inspected Marvin’s cesspool and observed how it had changed over time.

Marvin said he was lucky to be have been chosen because he learned afterwards that his septic system is set to overflow by December, and he would have had to call for emergency services. He said he was not aware of that.

“It’s an important issue,” he said. “I don’t think most homeowners realize when they go to the bathroom what it affects. This is a good way for Suffolk County residents to learn.”

When they work as they should, they become a part of a process that helps us remember the Amendments to the Constitution, the Pythagorean Theorem, or the words to a love poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. When they don’t work correctly, we can run into all kinds of problems, some of which can get worse over time.

The N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, also known as the NMDA receptor, which has parts that are bound in the membrane of brain cells, or neurons, is at the center of learning and memory.

Up until last year, only parts of the NMDA receptors sticking out of the membrane were known. A lack of a three-dimensional understanding made it difficult to see how this receptor works. Hiro Furukawa, an associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and his postdoctoral researcher, Erkan Karakas, provided considerably more structural details of this receptor.

“The structures of the full-length NMDA receptor that [Furukawa’s] lab generated last year are seminal,” said Lonnie Wollmuth, a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Stony Brook University and a collaborator with Furukawa on other work. “They are fundamental to understanding how the NMDA receptor operates and how it can be modified in the clinic.”

Wollmuth suggested Furukawa has an “outstanding” reputation and said the structure of the receptor will “drive the field in new directions.”

Furukawa cautioned that scientists are still missing a structural understanding of a piece of the receptor that protrudes into the cell. Seeing the structure of this receptor will “provide clues for developing new compounds and for redesigning existing compounds to minimize side effects associated with nonspecific targeting,” Furukawa explained.

When NMDA receptors open, sodium and calcium ions flow into the cells. Too much calcium in the cells can cause toxicity that results in the neurodegeneration observed in Alzheimer’s disease and injuries related to strokes. Changes in the concentration of these ions can excite the neuron and cause symptoms such as epilepsy.

Seeing the structure of this receptor can provide a road map to find places on it that can become too active or inactive. Researchers typically look for binding sites, where they can send in a drug that can affect the function of the receptor. The more binding pockets scientists like Furukawa find, the greater the opportunity to regulate the NMDA receptor function.

Furukawa’s lab includes two graduate students, four postdocs and a technician. He is collaborating with scientists at Emory University to design and synthesize novel compounds based on the protein structures. As he gets more research funding, Furukawa would like to add more expertise in bioinformatics, which involves using computer science and statistics to understand and interpret large collections of data.

Experts in this field can go through a database of compounds quickly, enabling scientists to conduct the equivalent of thousands of virtual experiments and screen out candidates that, for one reason or another, wouldn’t likely work.

Furukawa is also studying autoimmune disorders in which immune cells attack these important receptors. One of these diseases is called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Susannah Cahalan wrote an autobiographical account of her struggle with the disease in a New York Times Best Selling Book called “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” in 2012.

Furukawa is collaborating with a group at the University of Pennsylvania to find a way to detect the autoimmune antibodies that causes encephalitis. He is working to find a way to quench autoimmune antibodies for an anti-NMDA receptor.

Furukawa lives in Cold Spring Harbor with his wife, Megumi, who used to be an elementary school teacher but is now taking care of their sons Ryoma, 7, and Rin, 4.

Furukawa, who moved from Japan to Boston in fifth grade, then back to Japan for junior high school and finished high school in Missouri, is enjoying an opportunity to grow his own vegetables on Long Island.

As an undergraduate at Tufts, Furukawa was more interested in international politics and economics than in science. When he took chemistry and physics classes, he said the work “clicked comfortably” and he wound up majoring in chemistry. As an eight-year-old, he recalled watching the stars at night through a telescope. When he saw a ring of Saturn for the first time, he was so excited that he couldn’t sleep.

Furukawa’s colleagues appreciate his dedication to his work.

“He is certainly driven,” said Wollmuth. “He is in an extremely competitive field, so he must work efficiently and hard.”

North Shore natives travel to Washington with hopes of swaying lawmakers to renew health care benefits

John Feal speaks at the September 11 memorial ceremony in Commack last week. Photo by Brenda Lentsch

The 9/11 first responders who have fought for years to get health care support are heading back to Washington, D.C., in hopes of ushering in the renewal of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. And for one Nesconset resident, change cannot come soon enough.

Parts of the bill will expire next month, and other parts in October 2016.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would extend the programs of the original Zadroga act indefinitely. It was introduced to Congress in April and currently has 150 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“When this bill expires, our illnesses do not expire,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, in a phone interview. Feal, of Nesconset, has been walking the halls of Congress for the past eight years to help get this bill passed.

He is also a 9/11 first responder who worked on the reconstruction at Ground Zero, and lost half of his foot in the process. He suffered from gangrene, but he says his injuries “pale in comparison to other first responders.”

President Barack Obama signed the current Zadroga act into law in 2011 and established the World Trade Center Health Program, which will expire in October if not renewed.

The WTC program ensured that those whose health was affected by 9/11 would receive monitoring and treatment services for their health-related problems. It consists of a responder program for rescue and recovery workers and New York City firefighters, and a survivor program for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Zadroga act also reopened the September 11th Victims Compensation Act, which allows for anyone affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. That will expire in October of next year.

Feal said he was asked by television personality Jon Stewart to come on “The Daily Show” in December 2010, but the Nesconset native said he did not want to leave the real legislative fight in D.C. Instead, he helped get four 9/11 responders to the Dec. 16, 2010, episode, who helped shed light on the ongoing battle these responders were dealing with in Congress.

“He was definitely one of the reasons the bill got passed,” Feal said of Stewart. Stewart accompanied Feal and many other first responders when they traveled to Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and took part in a mini rally.

The bill did not pass the first time it was presented to Congress back in 2006. A new version was drafted in 2010 and passed in the House of Representatives, but was having trouble getting through the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The bill received final congressional approval on Dec. 22, 2010, and was enacted by the president on Jan. 2, 2011.

“As we get older these illnesses will become debilitating,” Feal said. “Not extending this bill is criminal. People will die without it. It’s a life-saving piece of legislation.”

Jennifer McNamara, a Blue Point resident and president of The Johnny Mac Foundation, is also actively involved in the fight to keep responders health costs covered. Her late husband, John McNamara, passed away in 2009 from stage IV colon cancer.

He was a New York City Firefighter and worked more than 500 hours at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked with responders to get support for the Zadroga bill before he died.

“I made him a promise to continue to lend support to get this legislation passed,” Jennifer McNamara said in a phone interview. When her husband passed away, she said there weren’t as many responders getting sick as there are now. “People are dying more quickly, and more are getting diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses.”

The two big issues that McNamara said she feels need to continue to be addressed are monitoring these diseases and coverage of costs once someone is diagnosed. McNamara said she believes that if there were better monitoring programs earlier on, her husband could’ve been diagnosed before his cancer was stage IV, and he could’ve had a better chance.

“These people did tremendous things for their country,” McNamara said. “They shouldn’t have to guess about whether they are going to be taken care of.”

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