Environment & Nature

An image of the proposed treatment system. Image from SCWA

With a little under 600 wells in its system, the Suffolk County Water Authority has a big task ahead as it tries to comply with state mandates to remove the likely carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane from Long Island’s drinking water.

On a Zoom call with TBR News Media, water authority officials talked about the current progress on remodeling the county’s water infrastructure, including 76 wells. It’s a difficult task, and there are many years and millions of dollars more needed before many of the county’s wells are remediated. The authority has estimated 45% of its wells were detected with 1,4 dioxane, which Jeffrey Szabo, the CEO of the SCWA, called “frightening.”

A map showing where the SCWA expects to put the treatment systems, should they be approved. Images from SCWA

For over a year, 1,4 dioxane has appeared in the news frequently . Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation at the end of last year banning 1,4 dioxane, which is normally found in some household cleaning products. At the tail end of July this year, New York adopted regulations for the chemical, setting the maximum contaminant levels, or MCL, of 1 part per billion. 1,4 dioxane has been found in 70% of Long Island wells found during a federal testing initiative back in 2013 through 2015. 

The state has also set the MCL for PFOA and PFOS, both of which have been found to cause health issues in humans and animals, at a maximum of 10 parts per trillion. Perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, is a chemical often found in firefighting foams, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, is used in nonstick and stain-resistant products.

Szabo said they are on their way to establishing treatment for the PFOA and PFOS in all wells that need it. The water authority’s October report states that all wells with those chemicals above the MCL limit are either being treated to remove the contaminants or are being blended to below the MCL or have been removed from service. Szabo said the water authority has granular activated carbon, or GAC filters that help remove the PFAS chemicals, but such carbon-based filters have little to no effect on 1,4 dioxane. Instead, the SCWA started almost a decade ago developing technology to remove another similar chemical, 1,3 dioxane from drinking water. In 2017, SCWA engineers designed and piloted the first full-scale pilot 1,4-dioxane treatment system in state history. The authority’s Advanced Oxidation Process, or AOP treatment system is currently operational in only one location, Central Islip. That design process “took a long time and a lot of money,” Szabo said.

The water authority CEO said they now have 56 AOP treatment systems in construction in Suffolk, including in Farmingdale and Huntington. There are AOP treatment systems being designed for places on the North Shore such as Sunken Meadow Park, but in many cases it’s not as simple as installing a new filter, as it often takes reconfiguring and additional electrical work. Clearing and site work continues for future AOP sites and electrical upgrade work is beginning at sites such as Flower Hill Road in Huntington. In some cases it’s simply easier and cheaper to replace old wells, such as on Old Dock Road in Kings Park, which is replacing two wells on Carlson Avenue both of which need AOP systems.

Not only that, but there is an apparent year-long lead time from when the authority orders a new system to when it can be installed.

Despite recent efforts, funding continues to be the biggest issue. Each GAC system costs around $1 million to manufacture. An AOP system is closer to $2.5 million. At the end of last year, the SCWA estimated efforts to remediate such wells would cost $177 million over the next five years. The October report states the authority has spent close to $12 million to date for PFAS related work and $23,136,397 for emerging contaminant work.

The water authority passed a $20 fee added to residents’ quarterly water bills starting this year to help pay for this new water treatment. 

Though even with that fee, it’s not likely enough to cover the full cost. The water authority has also filed lawsuits against several companies whose products contain PFOA, PFOS or 1,4 dioxane. Those suits are still ongoing. The SCWA has received $13.3 million in grants from New York State and has submitted additional applications for state grant funding for 14 of its wells.  

The water authority is also waiting on a bill in the state legislature which could provide some extra financial assistance. A bill supported by state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) that would provide reimbursement for emerging contaminant grants by responsible parties has passed the state senate but currently remains in committee in the assembly.

By Tara Mae

Something wild is coming to Smithtown. Sweetbriar Nature Center now offers A Wildlife Experience, a unique program offering one hour private guided tours that grant unprecedented access to its buildings, operations, and animals. Located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, the nonprofit organization provides natural science education and native wildlife rehabilitation services for the community.

The personal tours will allow participants to see the center’s recently renovated wildlife rehabilitation area, now called the Steven Goldman clinic, which is usually off limits to visitors.

“It’s an experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else,” said Veronica Sayers, Sweetbriar’s program coordinator. “It’s not very often that you can see how a wildlife rehab works. You don’t normally get this experience unless you’re in the field.”

Attendees will also be able to explore parts of the main building, which houses some of Sweetbriar’s permanent residents and is generally open for self-guided excursions.

Guests will be able to observe the animals and meet a few of Sweetbriar’s regular ambassadors like Cali, an imprinted Baltimore oriole; Marguerite, an imprinted blue jay; Nugget, a screech owl; and Tulip, an opossum.

The tours give insight into more than the lives of the animals; they delve into the backgrounds of Sweetbriar and the Blydenburgh family, on whose estate the center and preserve now exist. Guides are able to supply greater historical context as well as details about the architecture of the structures and grounds, according to Janine Bendicksen, Sweetbriar’s curator and wildlife rehabilitation director, who came up with the initial idea.

One of four staff members, Ms. Bendicksen noted that she, her coworkers, and the dedicated team of volunteers are constantly brainstorming for ways to keep Sweetbriar operational in the time of COVID-19. The private tours are a way to raise money and benefit the community Sweetbriar serves. “Instead of just asking for money and donations, we are giving back,” she explained.

During the pandemic, Sweetbriar, like many organizations, has had to completely reimagine how it functions. At the peak of the lockdown, the employees were looking after approximately 100 animals by themselves, without the assistance of volunteers, according to Ms. Sayers. In this time of emotional turmoil and economic uncertainty, Sweetbriar has sought to create new ways of connecting with the public and supporting the animals in its care.

As sources of revenue shrunk, animals in need of help were being brought to the center at a higher rate than in years past. “Many rehab centers are experiencing this,” said Ms. Bendicksen. Since the beginning of 2020, the center has treated more than 2,000 animals.

Sweetbriar Nature Center administers comprehensive rehabilitation to wildlife and generates much of its funding from community engagement and outreach programs. Located on 54 acres of diverse woodland, garden, wetland, and field habitats, the center’s grounds are open year-round to the public, free of charge. Since the onset of the pandemic it has been unable to host the events and activities it normally offers, on which Sweetbriar largely relies to support its animals and endeavors.

A Wildlife Experience is available to parties of up to six people by appointment only for $104. People may register and pay the fee online at www.sweetbriarnc.org/animal-encounters. After you purchase your ticket, Sweetbriar will email you to set up a date or they can send you a gift card to book at a later time. Please give them at least 3 days to respond after you’ve purchased your ticket. The tours are mask-mandated and photos are encouraged.

For more information, please call 631-979-6344.

All photos courtesy of Sweetbriar Nature Center.

From left, Kamazima Lwiza aboard the hospital ship Jubilee Hope which is owned by a British NGO known as Vine Trust and provides services to several islands on Lake Victoria with Deogratias Kabogo, Chief Engineer of the ship. Photo by Pascal Ferdinand

By Daniel Dunaief

In tropical and subtropical countries, including Brazil and the Ivory Coast, a parasite moves from snails to humans, causing 220 million illnesses a year and as many as 200,000 annual deaths.

People contract the parasite when they enter shallow, warm waters, where the schistosomiasis larvae known as cercariae enters through the skin, moves through the blood stream and settles near the stomach or bladder.

Once it’s near the bladder, the parasite reproduces, sending its eggs out through urine or feces, which, if directed towards warm, shallow water bodies, can enter the snail and begin the process again.

Schistosomiasis causes anemia, malnutrition and learning difficulties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the parasite robs humans of zinc and vitamins A and D. Prolonged infection can also cause bladder cancer.

Kamazima Lwiza, Associate Professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is part of a new, five-year study on the effects of climate change on schistosomiasis.

Lwiza’s part of the research, which is lead by Stanford University and involves several institutions, is analyzing the latest Global Climate Models known as Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 6 results. Lwiza studies the models under four-kilometer resolution to look for patterns and trends.

By creating a model that predicts temperature changes, Lwiza’s part of the efforts hope to help other collaborators apply those temperature expectations to epidemiological models. The ability of the parasite to survive, reproduce and infect humans depends on the viability of the snails, which are temperature sensitive. The temperature range is between 14 and 35 degrees Celsius, with an optimal temperature of between 30 and 32 degrees Celsius.

A warmer climate would likely increase the prevalence of schistosomiasis in the regions of Brazil and the Ivory Coast that this study is exploring, as well as in newer areas.

Kamazima Lwiza prepared instruments before installation aboard the hospital ship Jubilee Hope, which is owned by a British NGO known as Vine Trust and provides services to several islands on Lake Victoria. Photo by Pascal Ferdinand

Depending on the regional topography, human population and amount of rainfall, the area that is conducive to Schistosomiasis could expand. An area that is relatively flat and where rainfall increases and human population is low but increasing could cause the infection rate to climb.

As waterways that were too cold either reach the minimum temperature threshold for snails, or increase the temperature into the optimal range, snail populations are likely to flourish.

Part of the funding for the SoMAS portion of the study is coming from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These national funding agencies recognize that increasing temperature and land use has created an environment that fosters the expansion of snails and increased prevalence of parasites into areas in the southern United States.

“Given the climate change,[some parts of Florida and Georgia] will be falling within that temperature range,” Lwiza said. “The worry is that, if this disease is going to spread, how are we going to be prepared to keep it off.”

Lwiza had originally planned to travel to Brazil this past summer to collect baseline data on water temperatures. The pandemic caused him to cancel his travel. Next year, he hopes to build on data around significant water bodies where the disease is prevalent.

While the portion of the study that includes Lwiza focuses on temperature, the Stony Brook scientist is working with other researchers who are exploring a range of other analytical and mitigation measures.

For starters, in some countries that have battled against this parasite, the use of dams has exacerbated the problem. Dams have kept out prawns, who are natural predators for snails.

Scientists are considering reintroducing prawns. These shellfish, which look somewhat like shrimp, could not only reduce the population of snails and the parasites they carry, but could also become an economic boon, as a part of an aquaculture project.

The goal of that part of the study is to “see if [prawns] can be used as biological control agents,” Lwiza said. “If we can find a way of introducing these back to where they used to be, we can cut down the snail population.”

The third aspect of the study involves the use of artificial intelligence. Researchers are putting together a program that will allow people to take pictures of the parasites they find and upload them to a web site to identify them.

“That way, we are doing crowd sourcing” which will allow “people to contribute to our investigation,” Lwiza said. Researchers will be able to map the location of the parasites.

Lwiza said Schistosomiasis can affect anyone who goes in the water. The illness doesn’t get as much attention as malaria. When people go to a rural clinic, if they have malaria, they can get medicines from 20 vendors. A person with Schistosomiasis, however, may need to go to a district or regional hospital for medication.

Originally from Tanzania, Lwiza grew up on the western shores of Lake Victoria, where strong waves don’t favor the development of snails. He currently lives in East Northport with his wife Catherine Kentuha, who works in the United Nations Development Program. The couple has three children — Philip, Johnathan and Mulokozi.

Lwiza has worked at Stony Brook University for 29 years and has lived in Port Jefferson Village and East Setauket.

When he lived in Port Jefferson Village, he was pleased and surprised by how his neighbors brought him candles during a brown out and made sure he and his family were okay.

“It was like, ‘Wow, this is really great. This is like Africa,’” he recalls thinking.

When he’s not working, Lwiza enjoys riding a bike and listening to Indian, Arab, African and Latin music. He is also interested in computer programming.

As this study of Schistosomiasis progresses, Lwiza hopes the incidence of disease decreases and that the science helps protect the population against a widespread illness.

Concept art for Michael Manning’s scultpure which village officials plan to put in Rocketship Park. Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant said the crab could become a symbol for the village. Image from Manning’s proposal

The crab and the sea turtle, both species harmed by trash in the oceans, could be coming to Port Jeff to represent its beachfront and to remind visitors of the importance of protecting the oceans. 

The sea turtle scultpure designed by Nobuho Nagasawa is expected to be placed in Harborfront Park. Exact location is still to be determined. Photo from Nagasawa’s proposal

Two sculptures, one of each animal, are slated to come into the village courtesy of two artists, one with decades of experience, the other just beginning his artistic career. 

Village of Port Jefferson trustees voted Nov. 2 to appropriate a total of $2,600 from the Farmers Market and Maritime Festival trust accounts to purchase the rights to the designs for the two sculptures. The pieces are designed to be filled with debris people might find on the beach to illustrate visually what is needed to keep both beaches and local waters clean. A similar statue was installed at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last year. (For more info, search “Shelley the Sea Turtle” at tbrnewsmedia.com.)

Village trustee Rebecca Kassay, who has a background in environmental activism, started work alongside other local leaders before she became trustee in September. She said she, Mayor Margot Garant and PJ resident Karen Levitov had seen some examples of these sculptures all over the world, and thought Port Jefferson, as a harborfront community, needed one as well.

“We thought, ‘How cool would it be to have a unique version in Port Jeff?’” Kassay said. “They’re functional — they’re empowering people not just to recycle, but be more conscious.”

One of the sculptures, also made to resemble a sea turtle, is designed by renowned artist Nobuho Nagasawa, a professor at Stony Brook University. Plans give two options for the turtle, one where the shell can be lifted and the trash dropped in, and another with the shell as a wire mesh. In her design document, Nagasawa said the artwork is inspired by “the wonderment of life in the ocean which is in danger.” The sculpture is destined for Harborfront Park. 

Nagasaawa, with years of experience in the art world, said it was good training for artists only just coming into their own. The professor worked with Port Jefferson in helping the village format the request for qualification, which allowed them to establish what kind of cost estimates they were looking at. 

The second sculpture, which the village hopes to install in Rocketship Park, resembles a giant crab, its pincers held up to the sky. SBU Undergraduate student Michael Manning wrote in his proposal that a crab is defensive, tenacious and can persevere, making it a great example to express the work to protect local waters. The crab’s thorax is a cage-like design, with one part made to hold trash and the other to hold bottles. Garant said they are looking to get the high school’s environmental club involved in designing a placard to go along with the sculpture.

“The crab was something we thought the kids could definitely get involved with,” she said. “We imagine the crab could become — like the horse is to Saratoga — the crab could be to Port Jefferson.” 

Michael Manning

Unlike other sculptures and pieces Nagasawa has worked on, even ones that had an interactive element, the professor said this was the first project where function was the main driving force. It was an interesting challenge for students, and now that Manning’s piece was chosen, the SBU art professor said she’s looking for the young artist, with some guidance from her, to carry through on the responsibility for getting the project completed. Her bigger hope is that the village considers even more such student art pieces in the future.

“I really appreciate the village trusted the students’ ability to make this proposal,” she said. “Students normally have very little chance of doing something like this, and I hope this can turn into something much bigger.”

Levitov, SBU’s Paul W. Zuccaire gallery director and curator, helped get the ball rolling with her connections to SBU’s artists. This project also dovetailed with an exhibition she was planning on environmental art.

Levitov said all the projects the committee received were “wonderful,” adding “the students were really innovative in their approaches — animal forms, glacial and nautical shapes, and baskets inspired by Native American weaving were all considered. “

“My hope is that this collaboration will lead to future opportunities for creative partnerships between Stony Brook University and the surrounding communities,” she said. 

The 11 submissions were adjudicated by a committee that included Kassay, Garant and Levitov, as well as Lisa Perry, president of Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy, and Port Jefferson Conservation Advisory Committee member Dreania LeVine. A decision was made on the two designs Oct. 26. They also gave an honorable mention to SBU student Marta Baumiller.

Kassay said the village is currently looking to work with Environmental Sculptures, a company that specializes in such designs and is responsible for the Sunken Meadow sculpture as well. The next step, the trustee said, is to apply for some environmental grants for the projects. Kassay added with her experience she expects it won’t be too difficult to acquire grants from for such projects, as they tick off “a lot of boxes.”

The trustee put the tentative date of fall 2021 for fabrication of the two sculptures.

Do you have old electronics and metal cluttering up your house or work space, collecting dust or taking up space? Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 main St., Setauket will host an E-Waste Recycling Day on Saturday, Nov. 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bring your used computers, cell phones, laptops, servers, wire & cable, scrap metal, circuit boards, printers, hard drives & storage devices, power tools, small appliances, small electronics, keyboards/mice, stereos, flat screen computer monitors and more. No CRT tube televisions, CRT computer monitors or flat screen TVs. Please wear a mask. No registration required. For more information, call 631-941-4080.

By Daniel Dunaief

Noah Strycker once made a bet with a cruise ship full of passengers: if any of them spotted him without binoculars at any point during a 14-day trip, he would buy them all drinks. Even with that incentive, no one won a free drink, in large part because Strycker’s passion for birds means his binoculars are never out of arm’s reach.

A master’s candidate in Heather Lynch’s lab at Stony Brook University, Strycker, who has turned his world travels in search of his feathered friends into books, is working through the second year on Lynch’s specialty: penguins.

As a part of the team, Strycker is contributing to a population analysis of chinstrap penguins. Last year, he ventured to Antarctica with a field team for several months to count colonies of these six-to-ten pound birds.

The “piece de resistance” of that journey was a trip to Elephant Island, which is where, over 100 years earlier, Ernest Shackleton and his crew were marooned for several months before their rescue.

During Strycker’s journey to the famous but uninhabited island, the team counted the number of chinstrap and compared the population to the last known count, which occurred 50 years ago.

They determined that the chinstrap has had a significant decline, in some cases losing more than half its population in some areas. After a survey of Elephant Island and Low Island, the research team suggested that the decline in the chinstrap’s main source of food, krill, likely caused this reduction.

As for this year, Strycker had planned to travel back to Antarctica until the pandemic caused the cancellation of the trip. He is conducting a literature search to find previous chinstrap penguin counts. In the final part of his master’s program, he will help provide an updated assessment for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

While the IUCN provides information on threatened or endangered species, Strycker recognizes that the chinstrap won’t likely be on that list. “There are many millions of them,” he explained in a recent interview. “[But] they are declining. We are trying to give the IUCN updated information.”

Lynch’s lab will provide information for IUCN’s green list, which is for species that aren’t endangered. Species on this list might benefit from additional information that could help shape a future conservation strategy.

Strycker, who traveled to 41 countries in 2015 to count as many birds as possible in a year, appreciated and enjoyed his interaction with penguins. These flightless birds have no fear of humans so they waddled up to him and untied his shoelaces. They also fell asleep next to his boot and preened the side of his black wind pants.

Strycker landed in the world of penguins when he was working as a naturalist guide on a cruise ship and met Lynch, whose team was on the same boat.

Lynch was delighted with the chance to add Strycker to her team. “One of the most difficult things about our work is that there is such a steep learning curve for doing Antarctic field research,” Lynch explained in an email. “To grab someone like [Strycker] with so much Antarctic experience under his belt was just fantastic.”

Lynch appreciates how Strycker led the chinstrap survey work, not just in collecting the data but also in analyzing and writing it up. Strycker is “a terrific writer (and very fast, too) and his finesse with writing helped us get our research out for review faster than would normally be possible,” she said.

After seeing and hearing birds around the world, Strycker has an unusual favorite — the turkey vulture. When he was in high school in Eugene, Oregon, Strycker watched a nature documentary with David Attenborough in which the host put rotting meat out in a forest. In no time at all, turkey vultures discovered the feast. “That is the coolest thing I’ve seen,” Strycker recalls thinking.

Months later, he discovered a road kill deer while he was driving. He put the dead animal in the trunk of his ’88 Volvo Sedan and dumped it in his front yard, waiting to see if he could duplicate Attenborough’s feast. Fairly soon, 25 turkey vultures arrived and were sitting on the roof of his house. The neighbors didn’t complain because Strycker grew up on a dead end, 20 acres from the nearest house.

Fortunately for him, his parents didn’t seem too upset, either. “When they realized that their only child had become addicted to birds at a young age, they rolled their eyes and said that there’s much worse things that he could become addicted to,” Strycker recalled.

As for Long Island, Strycker said the area is currently in fall migration season. All the birds that nested in Canada are passing through New York on their way to spend the winter in warmer climates.

The migration patterns typically start with shorebirds in August, transition to warblers in September and to waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, which appear in October and November.

“This fall has also been exciting because several species of northern songbirds have ‘irrupted’ south, so we’re seeing unusually high numbers of them on Long Island,” said Strycker. This month, red-breasted nuthatches, purple finches, and pine siskins have appeared in large numbers, which doesn’t happen every year.

At this time of year, birds sometimes get lost outside their usual range. Last week, a painted redstart, which should be in Arizona, arrived in Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

“I was out there at dawn the next morning, along with half the birder population of New York, but unfortunately it had already moved on,” said Strycker.

People interested in tracking bird migration by radar can use the website birdcast.info, which can predict bird migration like the weather using radar data. Strycker advises interested birders to type “Stony Brook” into their local Bird Migration Alert tool.

Once he earns his degree, Strycker plans to build on and share his experiences.

He would like to write books, give presentations and “generally inspire the world about birds.”

Photo by Tom Caruso

PURE AUTUMN

Tom Caruso of Smithtown recently snapped this closeup of a pot of mums at Pantaleons Farmstand in East Setauket. He writes, ‘[The photo] captures my favorite fall colors. It was late afternoon when my wife and I stopped by the farmstand to buy some pumpkins, gourds and mums. The afternoon sun bathed these mums in a golden light that was too good to pass up.

Send your Photo of the Week to [email protected]com

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Comsewogue Library's Green Team Co-chairs, on ends, and advisor, center, from left, From left to right: Danielle Minard, Debbie Engelhardt, Debbie Bush. Photo from Comsewogue Library

It seems that the trend of going green hasn’t yet stalled, but the Comsewogue Public Library is looking to make itself a model to the larger community, as it was recently certified by Green Business Partnership.

Comsewogue Adult Services & Outreach Librarian Danielle Minard said the certification was a near-two year process, starting when the library was looking to reduce waste, cut down their carbon footprint as well as become a model for the community. The certification process has been completed by multiple businesses, but there is a long list of New York state libraries who have done it as well.

The aim of the certification is to reduce a business’, or in this case a library’s, carbon footprint, reduce waste and increase conservation practices. Comsewogue took a inventory of its energy use and recycling, and took such actions as adding reusable flatware in the breakroom, converting from plastic to paper tablecloths, using copy paper from post-consumer recycled material and started the process of converting any old lighting that dies or breaks into more sustainable LED lighting, just to name a few. 

The library has also tried to clearly label and separate waste into separate bins, including one for paper waste and another for plastic bottles and cans. 

In the future, the library looks to continue reducing their waste and create a so-called public education garden.

“I hope what we’ve done will be a good model for the community,” Minard said.

Library leaders also said there’s a significant economic impact as well for going green. Library Director Debbie Engelhardt said the library could save taxpayers through general reductions in spending, as in saving on electricity costs and generally having to buy less if the focus is on sustainable products. That’s not to say the library won’t have increases in costs due to inflations and benefits increasing, and the scenario from year to year is, by its nature, going to change.

Though the library also received a PSEG Long Island rebate based on the energy efficiency of their new HVAC units, the director noted, which helped offset the initial cost for their green initiative. The library has also received state Library Construction Aid grants for their new roof and HVAC replacements.

“While the Library has always operated in a responsible manner, our team was excited to learn through participation in the Green Business Certification Program that we could achieve even more in terms of financial savings, equitable practices, and environmental impacts,” Engelhardt said in a statement. “The Program’s tools and takeaways have changed for the better the way we think and do things, and that benefits all our stakeholders.” 

The action is also the first step in the process of being certified by New York Library Association’s Sustainable Libraries Initiative, which looks to make most if not all of the state’s hundreds of libraries focused on sustainability in the next few years.