Health

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By Gerard Frank Schafhautle

Wild dogs, such as wolves, are carnivorous by nature, whereas domesticated dogs have adapted to more omnivorous diets. Therefore, there are plenty of plants that, in moderation, may be consumed by our canine comrades. Some examples include carrots, blueberries, white rice and yes, peanuts. Whether butter in a jar or nuts in a bag, peanuts are generally a safe choice (in moderation) compared to many other plants that we call nuts.

Ironically, peanuts are not actually nuts, but rather legumes, like peas and beans. The true nuts are those from trees, such as walnuts, pecans, hickory, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashew, Brazilian nuts, Cocoa (Chocolate), and acorns. Before venturing into the harmful effects of tree nuts, allow me to explain an oddity in the nut family that was not mentioned — almonds.

Almonds come in two varieties: sweet and bitter. Bitter almonds are more related to the fruit tree family of peaches and apricots. If you were to crack open the pit of an apricot or peach, you will see one or two seeds that look suspiciously like almonds. Bitter almonds and the center of a fruit pit all contain a cyanide-related chemical called benzaldehyde as well as other harmful chemicals, which are capable of symptoms ranging from lethargy to fatality. So be careful of bitter almonds and pets, as well as letting them chew on a fruit pit.

Nuts from trees can be contaminated with a mold type fungus called Aspergillus. This type of mold fungus secretes a type of poison called aflatoxins. Aflatoxins can cause damage to the liver and potentially lead to cirrhosis (scarring), or carcinoma (cancer). Best not let your fluffy family members eat any fallen tree nuts.

Although chocolate tastes great, cocoa products contain theobromine, which is deadly to your pets in even small amounts. Theobromine is found in all forms of chocolate and cocoa butters, in increasing concentrations from white chocolate (the least) to dark chocolate (the greatest). Theobromine is a stimulant that could lead to irregular heart rhythms and seizures. Both could be fatal.

Nuts of the arboreal nature may contain one other toxic substance harmful to your pets. Walnuts, American black and English, amongst other species, are formed under a thick leather skinned exterior. The space between the nut’s shell and this protective barrier is filled with a soft black resin full of tannins. Tannins are substances that act as astringents which bind proteins and amino acids in the body. The effect is rapid onset vomiting and diarrhea, followed by life threatening and sometimes fatal kidney and liver damage.

Peanuts. Finally we come around to the safe “nut” — well , almost. Peanuts are high in fats, which can clog up the liver and pancreas, which can lead to pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas and/or hepatitis, inflammation of the liver. These issues are easily treated by your veterinarian by switching your dog to a bland, low-fat diet and halting the “treating” of peanut butter in a hollow bone toy. Chemicals originating from tree nut consumption are much more difficult to treat, and may require special attention by the animal poison control hotline or an emergency veterinary clinic or hospital.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Do not allow your dog access to any human-edible tree nuts. Keep your veterinarian’s office phone number, as well as the closest after-hours veterinary emergency clinic and animal poison control hotline, in a spot that is accessible to all family members. Finally, if you feel the need to treat your pet with a few peanuts or some peanut butter, do so in careful moderation. Be safe, be wise, and be informed.

Gerard Frank Schafhautle has worked for Dr. Matthew Kearns at Countryside Animal Hospital in Port Jefferson for 6 years. He has a certification in Animal Science and will be attending Stony Brook University this fall, working toward an undergraduate degree in Biology.

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Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Stony Brook Medicine announced on Friday that the Eastern Long Island Hospital board of directors has voted unanimously to approve an affiliation with Stony Brook University Hospital, subject to the successful completion of the definitive agreement and all regulatory and other approvals.

The decision was ruled an important first step toward advancing Stony Brook’s collaboration to ensure North Fork residents have greater access to high-quality care, according to Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president for Health Sciences and dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

“We are grateful to SUNY’s visionary leadership in its support of our continued work to establish agreements with community hospitals in Suffolk County for the care of Long Island residents,” said Reuven Pasternak, chief executive officer for Stony Brook University Hospital and vice president for health systems at Stony Brook Medicine.

Thomas E. Murray Jr., chairman of the Eastern Long Island Hospital board of trustees said his group had been deliberating over the past several months on finding a strategic partner. He said Stony Brook best fulfilled the board’s mission to best address what he called the evolving health needs of his eastern community.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said he could not be more pleased with the news, given his experience working to move the hospital forward.

“Throughout my tenure, I have worked hard to make certain that quality, affordable medical services are accessible to residents throughout my district,” he said. “This unanimous decision ensures that people on the North Fork and Shelter Island will continue to receive expert medical care close to home.”

Stony Brook and Eastern Long Island will immediately initiate a collaborative planning effort to develop a long-term strategic plan to ensure current and future health care needs are addressed.

“While the delivery of health care and especially hospital care is rapidly changing, becoming a part of Stony Brook University Hospital will allow Eastern Long Island Hospital to make this complex transition while continuing to carry out our long-time promise to the community. The hospital has been here for 110 years and this affiliation will ensure that the health care needs of the community are met for years to come,” said Paul J. Connor, III, president and CEO of Eastern Long Island Hospital.

An expert panel at Stony Brook University discusses environmental issues facing Long Island. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

After a month of increased algal blooms, reduced water quality and two of the most severe fish kills the county has ever experienced, Long Island scientists and officials have decided it is past time — yet about time — to address the issue of harmful nitrogen pollution in our waterways.

Hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, a forum on water pollution in Suffolk County was held at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center on June 23 to identify the core causes of nitrogen pollution and brainstorm functional, cost-effective technological solutions.

In his welcome address, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) emphasized the gravity of the problem.

“This problem wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight,” he said. “Big challenges like this won’t be solved in election cycles.”

But he has noticed signs of progress.

“To see this group all coming together, saying we’re going to work to solve this problem, gives me great hope and optimism that we have actually turned the corner and we are now on the road to addressing our water quality issues in a real way.”

At the forefront of the technical and technological sides of this progress are panelists Walter Dawydiak, director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services; Amanda Ludlow, a scientist at Roux Associates Inc.; Theresa McGovern, a water resources engineer at VHB; and Harold Walker, a professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering at Stony Brook University.

Dawydiak identified unsewered septic flow as the main source of the nitrogen problem.

“Nitrogen, which we expected to level off, is not leveling off,” he said.

He noted that 85 percent of unsewered septic flow originates in residential areas.

“The elephant in the room is us.”

He said a change in health department standards for residential wastewater treatment — for the first time in 40 years — could mitigate the problem by regulating the installation, operation, and maintenance of septic systems. He referred to this proposed set of regulations as an example of policy driving the technology to where it needs to be.

“We need better technology in this area,” Walker said. “If we’re going to solve this problem, we need to expand the tool box that we have available. … We need to think about systems operating effectively for as long as possible, with little or no maintenance. That’s the challenge.”

Ludlow agreed, and emphasized the importance of implementing systems that treat nitrogen and other pollutants, like pharmaceuticals and hormones, on the 360,000 homes running on old systems: “Focus on technologies that affect all the constituents in our wastewater.”

McGovern said that a holistic yet specific approach to wastewater management would make improvements possible.

“We need to be consistent and science-based with the targets, yet still allow some flexibility,” she said. She suggested setting a universal — instead of concentration-based — limit on the amount of nitrogen allowed to remain in wastewater, while allowing households that consistently perform under that limit increased wastewater flow.

Of course, new technologies and oversight costs money. During the second panel discussion on funding proposals, Suffolk County Planning Commission co-chair David Calone suggested using Hurricane Sandy recovery funds to improve storm-water drainage and prevent sewage from entering waterways.

Dorian Dale, director of sustainability and chief recovery officer for Suffolk County, noted that, though the $16 million of Sandy relief money would cover some of the cost for improvements, it could not provide the minimum $8 billion necessary to replace 360,000 septic systems.

He said changing the tax on drinking water from a base price to one that reflects household usage could help close the gap.

Calone brought up the possibility of reaching out for federal funding and increasing the cap on private activity bonds to spur work on water quality issues.

“Involving the private sector is where we’ve shown a lot of leadership on Long Island,” said Anna Throne-Holst, Southampton Town supervisor. “It has to be a public/private partnership.”

The panelists were optimistic about the county’s ability to undertake the project.

“The last sewer project, 40 years ago, was rife with cesspool corruption,” Dale said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to have time for the shenanigans of the past.”

Throne-Holst expressed her faith that the public will remain informed and engaged on this issue.

“The public education process is well underway,” she said. “People are well aware of what a crisis this is.”

The Metabolic Reboot Smoothie, pictured above. Photo by Lisa Steuer

By Lisa Steuer

Contrary to what some may believe, there are many tasty ways to eat healthy. Whether your goal is to lose weight or improve your well being, smoothies are a great and easy option.

Making a smoothie — when you blend ingredients together — is different from juicing. When juicing, the juice is extracted from fruits and vegetables, leaving behind a pulp that is often thrown away. In addition, this strips the fruit of its fiber but leaves the sugar.

While juicing is still considered healthy in moderation, having a fiber source with your healthy drink is important, said Shoshana Pritzker, RD, CDN, who owns Nutrition by Shoshana in East Islip. Fiber keeps you feeling fuller for longer, is good for digestion and helps control blood sugar.

Still, many people turn to juicing-only type diets in order to “cleanse.” However, this is not really necessary, Pritzker said.

“You have a liver and a kidney that do a phenomenal job at making sure your system is clean and healthy, so there really is no way to detox better than what your body does already on its own,” said Pritzker. A better option, instead, is to focus on filling your diet with plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables to keep you healthy and your system running smoothly.

The kind of smoothie you make can be dependent on your goals. For instance, add green tea to a smoothie to help boost your metabolism if you want to lose weight. Or make a health blend with antioxidant-rich ingredients like blueberries. “Overall, you should just be looking for a healthy blend of ingredients you like. Because if you don’t like it, you’re not going to drink it,” said Pritzker.

Making the Perfect Smoothie
Like any healthy meal, the ideal smoothie should contain all three macronutrients: protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. For protein, you could use a scoop of protein powder, non-fat dairy milk or non-fat yogurt (either Greek or regular, depending on your personal preference); the healthy fat could be fish oil, flaxseed, peanut butter, nuts, coconut oil or even an avocado (“You can’t even taste it. It makes it really thick and creamy,” said Pritzker). And your complex carb could be a high-fiber cereal or granola. A smoothie that contains all three macronutrients could even work as a meal replacement.

In addition, if you’re concerned about your fruit going bad before you get a chance to use it, give frozen fruit a try, as it’s just as healthy as fresh fruit (just check the label to make sure it contains no added sugar). “The only thing you want to stay away from is canned fruit,” said Pritzker. “Canned fruit is usually kept in syrup.”

Here are three smoothie recipes Pritzker shared. For more recipes, visit her website at nutritionbyshoshana.com, where you can also download a free smoothie recipe e-book.

Metabolic Reboot Smoothie: Makes 1 serving
Ingredients:
1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
1/2 frozen banana
1/4 fresh avocado
1 cup chopped kale
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 – 1 cup brewed green tea, cooled
Ice
Directions:
Add ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Antioxidant Power Smoothie: Makes 1 serving
Ingredients:
1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.)
1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1 apple, cored and cubed
1/2 frozen banana
1 tablespoon flaxseeds or ground flaxseeds
1/2 – 1 cup water or milk of choice
Ice (optional)
Directions:
Add ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

PB & J Breakfast Smoothie: Makes 1 serving
Ingredients:
6 ounces plain, nonfat, Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
1/2 cup fresh or frozen purple grapes
or strawberries
1/2 cup dry oats
1/2 to 1 cup milk of choice
Ice (optional)
Directions:
Add ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Lisa Steuer is the managing editor of FitnessRx for Women and FitnessRx for Men magazines. For fitness tips, training videos and healthy recipes, visit www.fitnessrxformen.com and www.fitnessrxwomen.com.

A deer tick, above, which can carry one strain of the Powassan virus, is a common type of tick on Long Island, along with the lone star and American dog ticks. Stock photo

As Long Islanders are warned about an uptick in Lyme disease, another tick-borne virus has emerged in Connecticut across the Long Island Sound.

Nearly 12 years ago, Eric Powers, a biologist and wildlife educator, noticed an increase in the tick population at Caleb Smith park in Smithtown, after pulling nearly 40 ticks off a group of his students.

Powers conducted a survey of the park and discovered the population of tick predators had decreased, as feral and outdoor house cats either chased them off or killed them.

“It’s becoming a huge nationwide issue with our wildlife,” Powers said during a phone interview. “Wherever people are letting their cats out, we’re seeing this disruption in ecosystem where these tick predators are gone.”

But what Powers did not find was the prevalence of a tick-borne virus, the Powassan virus, which recently appeared in Bridgeport and Branford in Connecticut.

Between 1971 and 2014, 20 cases of POW virus were reported in New York, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the virus has been found in Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Like Lyme disease, the virus can cause long-term neurological problems if left untreated. But Long Island POW virus incidences remain low despite the increase in tick population, according to Daniel Gilrein, an entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension.

POW virus, which is related to the West Nile virus, was first identified in Powassan in Ontario, Canada, in 1958 after a young boy was bitten by an infected tick.

Little is known about how much the tick population has exactly increased on Long Island, but Tamson Yeh, pest management and turf specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, said it is unlikely cats are contributing to the increase by eating tick predators like birds.

“Birds will eat ticks, but not all birds are insect eaters,” Yeh said in a phone interview.

She said the snow cover during the winter months served as insulation for the ticks hiding in the ground, which helped them survive during the colder weather.

Richard Kuri, president of R.J.K. Gardens, a St. James-based landscaping company, has not noticed an increase in tick population recently. Regardless, he and his men continue to wear long sleeves and use a variety of sprays to ward off bugs while on the job. Kuri also said people may use more natural remedies to deter ticks.

“There are people who apply peppermint oil and rosemary mix that will help,” Kuri said. “But none of them are cure-alls.”

He added that granular insecticides, like Dylox, help kill a variety of unwanted bugs including ticks carrying viruses like Powassan.

There are two strains of the virus, which are carried by woodchuck and deer ticks. Since only about 60 cases of POW virus were reported in the United States in the past 10 years, Yeh said the chance of encountering POW virus is unlikely since the virus is rare.

Symptoms of the virus include fever, headaches, vomiting, weakness, confusion, drowsiness, lethargy, partial paralysis, disorientation, loss of coordination, speech impairment, seizures, and memory loss. Other complications in infected hosts may possibly arise, such as encephalitis, inflammation of the brain and meningitis.

Powers said he hopes to reduce tick population on Long Island through his quail program. He encourages local teachers, who use chicks or ducklings to educate their students about the circle of life, to raise bobwhite quails. He said releasing these quails annually will not only help them adjust to the presence of cats, but also control the tick population.

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Focusing on clinical and population improvements for our communities

By Joseph Lamantia

Whether or not you’ve already heard of the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program, one thing is for certain: it’s about to change health care in our state.

In April 2014, New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York had finalized terms with the federal government for a groundbreaking waiver enabling the state to reinvest $6.2 billion in federal savings generated by Medicaid Redesign Team reforms. Known as DSRIP, the program promotes community-level collaborations, with a focus on improving health care for patients covered by Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

The main goal of the program is to reduce avoidable emergency room visits and avoidable hospital admissions among Medicaid and uninsured populations by 25 percent over a five-year period. The plan is to accomplish this through enhanced collaboration among providers, improved electronic and direct communications, and ready access to primary care and behavioral health services.

For example, offering after-hours appointments can help patients who work full-time; translation services can assist those for whom English is a second language; and transportation to appointments can help patients who don’t have access to a vehicle or public transportation.

The DSRIP initiative for Suffolk County and its network of providers is called the Suffolk Care Collaborative.

The Office of Population Health at Stony Brook Medicine is administering the SCC and is responsible for coordinating more than 500 countywide organizations, including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, long-term home health care providers, behavioral health professionals, community-based organizations, certified home health agencies, physician practices and many other integral health care delivery system partners.

Some of the 11 focus areas of the SCC are diabetes care, pediatric asthma home-based self-management, cardiovascular care, behavioral health access and substance abuse prevention programs. Central to all programs is a coordination-of-care effort using care mangers embedded in the community to support health care providers and patients to achieve individual health goals. Connecting with patients at the point of care, identifying needs and providing appropriate support in the community will help prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and support a healthier population.

Suffolk County has approximately 150,000 uninsured residents and 240,000 Medicaid enrollees who can benefit from the program’s initiatives. And, because improvements made will affect the overall health care delivery system, they have the potential to benefit everyone — enhancing the patient experience and outcomes. When providers collaborate on patient care, information can be shared, test duplication can be avoided and preventive measures can be put in place to help all patients stay healthier.

Visit www.suffolkcare.org to learn more about the Suffolk Care Collaborative.

Joseph Lamantia is the chief of operations for population health at Stony Brook Medicine.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently authored a two-part series entitled “A Long (and Fat) Winter’s Night,” with ideas on the management of the obese patient. However, if your pet is not obese but the long winter has affected them, what do we do? Stiff, creaky joints may make it difficult for him or her to rise. Just doesn’t seem to be able to finish those long walks (or even have the willingness to take them).  These are difficult to see in our aging babies but are also something that can be addressed. Physical therapy along with low-impact exercise can be helpful in not only improving our pet’s mobility and stamina but also has a positive effect on their sense of well-being.

Before I discuss physical therapy and low-impact exercise specifically, I would recommend that all pet owners visit their veterinarian’s office to rule out possible underlying or concurrent disease. This may be something that you already do during an annual wellness exam. However, if you’ve missed a few years, please do make an appointment to have your four-legged family member examined and consider some basic diagnostics (if warranted) such as blood work, X-rays, etc. If all is well, then let’s get started.

The one good thing about physical therapy (unlike missing a dose of medication) is every little bit helps. If you can perform certain exercises and therapies only once daily instead or more often, remember every little bit helps.

Heat Therapy and Massage: It has been shown that heat therapy causes vasodilation and improves circulation to tissues. This increases tissue oxygenation and transportation of metabolites. It has been proven that five to 10 minutes of heat before physical therapy and exercise can reduce joint stiffness and increase range of motion. Make sure to use a blanket or towel as an insulating layer between your pet’s skin to prevent burns. After heat therapy, gentle massage therapy manipulates muscles and tissues around joints to reduce pain, stiffness, muscle knots/spasms, increase blood flow and promote relaxation.

Range of Motion and Stretching Exercises: This type of exercise helps improve joint motion and flexibility in patients. Simple flexion and extension exercises are excellent. Find a part of the house where your pet will feel most relaxed and least likely to try to get up and move around. Manipulate each affected joint only as far as your pet will tolerate initially but hold for 15 to 30 seconds at full flexion and again at full extension. Repeat the process for three to five repetitions.

Low-Impact Exercise: The most accessible (and most commonly used) low-impact exercise is controlled leash walks.Controlled leash walks (slowly at first) will help to achieve the most normal gait possible. Slow walks increase flexibility, strength and weight bearing. After slow walks have been mastered, then we can increase the pace, incorporate gentle inclines or different surfaces (e.g., sand) to further develop endurance, strength, balance and coordination.

Swimming: Swimming is somewhat controversial in veterinary medicine. Some believe swimming (because of the non-weight-bearing component) is the ideal at-home exercise for older patients. Others believe the movements are too “herky-jerkey” and could lead to hyperextension of already arthritic joints. First, access to a pool that has stairs that the pet can walk in and out of is important (this eliminates swimming in the ocean or above-ground pools). Make sure active swimming only continues for five minutes before taking a break. It would also be a good idea to purchase a pet-specific life jacket to ensure that if your pet does tire there is no risk of drowning.

There are other physical therapy modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound, therapeutic laser, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), underwater treadmills, etc. Unfortunately, these modalities are neither readily available nor inexpensive so I thought I would concentrate on therapies one could do at home. If interested in more advanced therapies, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss them.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 19 years.

John Martin demonstrates how to administer Narcan at a training session in Northport. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force wants to recruit 18- to 25-year-olds in the fight against drug addiction and fatal overdoses.

Next week, the group will host a workshop that will train participants in administrating Narcan, a drug that thwarts opioid overdoses. Task force leaders say they hope to attract members of a young age group to attend because those individuals have the highest overdose statistics locally.

The workshop is on Wednesday, June 17, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Northport Public Library. This training session and hands-on workshop is hosted by the task force, and will be run by the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. The training is easy to understand and free for anyone who registers.

“I want to equip the kids with the awareness and knowledge to battle this ongoing problem the youth today is dealing with,” Anthony Ferrandino, co-chair of the task force, said this week.

Narcan is a prescription drug that reverses an opioid overdose. An opioid describes drugs like heroin, morphine and oxycodone. Narcan cannot be used to get high and is not addictive. It also has no known negative side effects, so it is completely safe to administer this drug, even if there is uncertainty about a person having a drug overdose.

“The Northport [Village] Police Department has a 100 percent success rate for overdose victims when they have gotten to the scene in time,” Scott Norcott, the public relations coordinator for the task force, said in an interview.

In 2013 alone, there were 216 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Suffolk County, according to Ferrandino. In 2014, the number declined slightly to 167 deaths. More than half of the opiate deaths in 2013 were individuals in the 20-29 age group.

Ferrandino wants to focus on teaching kids not only how to administer the drug and the process of calling for help, but also the workings of the Good Samaritan laws. These laws protect the caller and the overdose victim from arrests for drug possession or being under the influence. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have varying policies that provide immunity from arrests for minor drug-law violations by people who help on the scene.

“I don’t want them to be scared to call 911 — that is a common fear — that they don’t want to get in trouble for being at the scene at all, so they become fearful of calling for help,” Ferrandino said.

The training session will include instructions on how to administer Narcan. Each participant will be given a prescription that allows him or her to carry and administer Narcan wherever they are, along with a free kit. New York State covers the costs of Narcan and the training.

Ferrandino was motivated to spread the word about Narcan to as many 18- to 25-year-olds as possible by a former student who graduated from Northport High School. When she was at college, a student overdosed at a party she was at, and she felt that if she had been trained in Narcan administration, she could have helped save the student’s life.

The task force has participated in many programs this year to try and spread awareness of the rising number of drug overdoses in town. Recovery, awareness and prevention week is an annual series of events throughout the Northport-East Northport school district with forums and events to help students learn how to avoid drugs and how to help friends who might be struggling with addiction.

Narcan training sessions will also be held in Hauppauge at the Suffolk County Office of Health Education in the North County Complex on Veterans Memorial Highway on June 15 and 29, and July 20.

“Narcan is really a Band-Aid, it’s a great one, but the endgame here is to get the kids to hear the facts, to smarten them up and see the dangers, so that one day we won’t need the Narcan training,” Norcott said.

Suffolk officials discuss environmental issues facing Long Island after thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Riverhead. Photo by Alex Petroski

The estimated nearly 100,000 dead bunker fish that have washed ashore in Riverhead may seem astounding, but it wasn’t all that surprising to the panel of experts brought before the Suffolk County Health Committee on Thursday.

In late May, the thousands of dead bunker fish, formally known as Atlantic menhaden fish, began appearing in the Peconic Estuary, an area situated between the North and South Forks of Long Island. According to a June 2 press release from the Peconic Estuary Program, the bunker fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. This shortage of oxygen is called hypoxia.

Walter Dawydiak, director of the county’s environmental quality division, who serves on the panel, which was organized by the health committee chairman, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), testified that the number of dead fish was at or approaching 100,000.

“This one is bigger and worse than any,” Dawydiak said.

According to the PEP, which is part of the National Estuary Program and seeks to conserve the estuary, bunker are filter-feeding fish and an important food source for many predatory fish, including striped bass and blue fish.

Alison Branco, the program’s director, said the fish are likely being chased into shallow waters by predators, but are dying because of low dissolved oxygen levels in the waters. In addition, an algae bloom is contributing to the low levels and is fueled by excess nitrogen loading. Much of that nitrogen comes from septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizer use.

“We’ve reach a point where this kind of hypoxia was run of the mill. We expect it every summer,” Branco, who also served as a panelist, said following the hearing.

While magnitude of the fish kill was astounding, the experts said they weren’t so surprised that it happened.

“I definitely thought it could happen at any time,” Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University, said in a one-on-one interview after the panel hearing. “There’s been an oxygen problem there all along.”

Gobler called it largest fish kill he’d seen in 20 years.

According to panel members, the worst of the fish kill occurred between May 27 and May 30.

Branco did suggest that this shocking environmental event could be turned into a positive if the right measures are taken sooner rather than later.

“It’s always shocking to see a fish kill,” she said. “As much as we don’t want to have things like that happen I think the silver lining is that it did capture the public’s attention.”

Prevention of a fish kill this large is possible, according to Branco. While preventing the harmful algal blooms is not possible, reducing the frequency and severity can be done if the amount of nitrogen in the coastal water supply is controlled.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an environmental policy advocacy group, agreed that curtailing the amount of nitrogen in the water is the easiest and most impactful way for prevention of a fish kill of this magnitude.

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step,” Esposito said in response to a question about the daunting task of fixing the Island’s sewage treatment techniques and facilities on a limited budget.

Esposito described the roughly $5 million from New York State, which was allotted to Suffolk County to deal with cleaning the coastal water supply, as seed money. Esposito and Branco both said they believe the commitment of time and money required to solve the nitrogen problem in the water supply will be vast.

“We can do this,” she said. “We have to do it. We have no choice.”

1.15-mile race will end at the harbor

Members of the Northport Running Club in their element. The Northport Nautical Mile is open to participants age 15 and up. Photo from Stewart MacLeod

The first ever Northport Nautical Mile race will take place on Saturday, June 13, in Northport Village.

The downhill 1.15-mile race will go through the heart of Northport and end at the foot of the harbor. The race is meant to be fast, fun and family-friendly.

“We wanted to do something a little different, a little unique and specific to Northport,” Stewart MacLeod, the race director for the Northport Running Club said in a phone interview. That’s why the race is a nautical mile instead of an average one-mile run. A nautical mile is a term used in measuring distances at sea.

There will be an award ceremony held at the gazebo at the waterfront park, along with raffles and refreshments. At 11 a.m., the annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony will take place, which includes participation by local officials as well as clergymen from multiple denominations. The Northport Farmers Market will also be in full swing, featuring vendors from all across Long Island.

The race will have a male and female wave, but there are no age distinctions within each wave. Runners age 15 and up are welcome to participate.

The Northport Running Club organizes the race, and approximately 400 participants are expected. Trophies will be awarded to the overall first, second and third place male and female finishers.

Many establishments in Northport are sponsoring this race, including Skipper’s Pub, Copenhagen Bakery, the Great Cow Harbor 10K Run and more. Main Street will be closed for the duration of the race, with the official start at William J. Brosnan School on Laurel Avenue.

It costs $20 to enter the race before June 6, and $25 after that. You can register online at www.nrcrun.org/events-and-races/northport-nautical-mile.

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