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Pharmaceuticals in well water sparks concern: Public warned of contamination

With attention focused on water quality on the Island, a poster campaign has been created with encouragement from the Water Advisory Committee and Town Board to remind Islanders and visitors that it’s important to not pollute water with dangerous products.

Islander Lisa Shaw created the poster to remind residents and visitors how to properly dispose of prescription drugs, synthetic sweeteners, personal care products and other items.

Ms. Shaw was part of an effort to negotiate a contract with the Suffolk County Water Authority to manage the West Neck Water District, and is now a member of the town Water Advisory Committee.

Even wastewater treatment plants aren’t effectively keeping poorly discarded prescription medications from reaching ground and surface waters that infect wells, Ms. Shaw said.

Leftover or expired prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines should be placed in blue boxes at either the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy or Police Department. “Sharps” — needles used by some diabetics or patients with other health problems that require injections — can be brought to Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport for disposal on Tuesdays.

A lot of data deals with wastewater treatment plants dumping contaminants that are not equipped to treat persistent drugs into streams and surface water, Ms. Shaw said.

“Consumers are encouraged to take inventory of what medicines are in the house and to safely dispose of  expired, no longer prescribed and/or redundant drugs,” Ms. Shaw said. The Water Advisory Committee encourages the public to take advantage of proper disposal methods.

In addition, PCPs — pesticides, preservatives, disinfectants and various personal care products — are being identified as “emerging contaminants,” Ms. Shaw said. Some have been banned, but others are still being used, she added.

Laboratories are now able to detect PCPs in increments as tiny as parts per trillion, Ms. Shaw said. Some studies say they don’t pose a direct threat to health, but it’s unknown if they can have “adverse effects of accumulation and exposure over time,” she said. “It’s widely known, however, how minute amounts enter surface waters and impact aquatic life.”

She also has concerns about synthetic sweeteners that, she said, have been detected in West Neck Water wells for a couple of years. Testing has shown Acesulfame and Sucralose that aren’t metabolized as they pass through the body and are excreted in the same form as they enter the body. Eventually they migrate from septic system to streams of water which supply wells, Ms. Shaw said.

“These regulated and safely ingested compounds are indicators of wastewater intrusion into drinking water, and though they are not necessarily a health hazard to humans, they do suggest the bigger issue of how septic waste, landfill seeping  and well water travel together,” Ms. Shaw said.

Residents should have their own water supply tested to know whether it’s safe, she said.

High levels of nitrates have been identified in the Center, but Water Advisory Committee (WAC) members have talked about other Island areas such as Silver Beach posing concerns.

A recent WAC discussion focused determining what areas of the Island are affected by contaminants and how to deal with those areas where contamination is found to be a problem.