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After Rampant Toxic Algae, Suffolk To Update 'Roman' Waste System

Cesspools have been blamed for leaching human waste into Long Island waters.

Every major bay on Long Island was hit with toxic algal blooms this summer. The algae starves the water of oxygen and causes massive fish kills, according to an annual report on the health of Long Island’s waterways released this week. Now, Suffolk County is trying to tackle part of the problem: human waste. 

The report says outdated septic tanks and sewage systems leak nitrogen pollution into the waterways. Long Island bays suffered record-breaking amounts of toxic algal blooms. More than two dozen bodies of water on Long Island failed to meet state water quality standards due to nitrogen leaks from septic tanks and outdated sewage systems.

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment,  says Long Island needs to be connected to modern sewage systems immediately.

"If we don’t do that, we will not ever have clean water on this island," Esposito says, "our island will not be livable or sustainable in the next ten to twenty years."

To that end, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation on Thursday that requires new homes and businesses built over the next few decades to have modern sewage systems. Bellone says the law is long overdue.

“We’re no longer going to allow old technology -- cesspools -- to be continued to be installed in the ground today," Bellon says. "We closed a loophole on something that was banned 50 years ago.”

Bellone says the legislation was designed with help from environmentalists to prevent further degradation of Long Island bays and remediate decades of water pollution.

Kevin McDonald is the policy director of The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. He said the legislation is long overdue.

“For the first time, as a matter of policy, we’re not taking our pee and our poop and dropping it into a concrete hole in the sand that mixes with our groundwater," McDonald says.

"This is a dramatic improvement over Roman technology.”