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New tests, same results: Don’t drink the water at the Senior Center

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Town Engineer John Cronin just released the most recent water test results at the Senior Activities Center  building, which also houses two medical offices. In an email, Mr. Cronin reported:

“Results from the most recent round of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) water testing at the cited location find the continued presence of MTBE at a value of 13 parts per billion [one more part per billion than previous results] for both the Senior Center and Physician Offices.  These samples were taken last week by NYSDEC personnel.

“NYSDEC has taken measures to commence the design and provision of appropriate water filtration for the building.  The town is working cooperatively with NYSDEC personnel to provide all needed information for the completion of their effort.

“In the interim, measures currently in place (including signage and the provision of bottled water) will continue.

“Town personnel are in further discussion with appropriate Suffolk County and DEC staff to consider if any further measures are warranted.”

Below is the Reporter’s original story from May 24.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has today notified Shelter Island Town Officials that the water in the building that houses the Senior Center and two medical offices is unsafe to drink.

Recent testing has revealed the presence of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) a colorless, manufactured liquid with a distinctive odor that most would find disagreeable, according to the Health Department notice.

MTBE historically was an additive in gasoline. But its use was banned as an additive in 2004, according to Town Engineer John Cronin. He said the town regularly tests drinking water in all of its buildings and its last test showed it to be within the allowable 10 parts per billion but the latest reading from the county was at 12 parts per billion.

MTBE is “notorious for forming plumes” that can disperse into surrounding groundwater, Mr. Cronin said.

Neighbors with property in the area might want to make arrangements to have their own water supplies privately tested to determine if MTBE has leached into their wells, Mr. Cronin said.

The substance is not highly toxic in short-term exposure, according to the Health Department notice. But for those who have more long-term exposure, it can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and feelings of confusion.

Laboratory animals exposed to high levels of MTBE have shown effects to their nervous systems, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, liver and blood.

The health department calls for using bottled water for drinking purposes.

“We’re doing everything that we’re supposed to do,” Mr. Cronin said. But because of the approaching holiday weekend, he and Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. have been unable to reach anyone so far at the Health Department who might provide more information.

However, the New York State Department of Environment Conservation is sending representatives to the Island next week, Mr. Cronin said.

In the interim, he advises using bottled water and said  that often the use of activated charcoal filters on homeowners’ water supply can solve the problem.

Posters have gone up at the Senior Center and in both medical offices, he said.

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