State airs groundwater-protection proposal

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The state Department of Environmental Conservation has released its proposed plan to protect Long Island's water supply from pesticide pollution -- more than a decade after the state legislature ordered such a program.

State officials say the plan will safeguard groundwater while meeting the needs of farmers, residents and businesses.

Critics say the measure offers little action and that too much time has passed to keep studying options. Supporters, including farmers, favor continuing a cautious approach.

The plan, made public this week, calls for evaluating the pesticides found in groundwater, their concentration and the reasons for their use and implementing pollution prevention measures, including enhanced groundwater monitoring.

Other measures could include modifying pesticide use or requiring less-toxic products, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a news release.

"I was just astounded that after a decade pretty much all they are doing is kicking the can down the road," said state Assemb. Robert Sweeney, (D-Lindenhurst), who chairs the Environmental Conservation committee. "There's not much substance to it."

DEC spokeswoman Lisa King said in an email the proposal "presents a blueprint for action that gets the strategy off the ground in a meaningful way."

Plan supporters said the use of pesticides is key to protecting Long Island's $300 million per year agriculture industry.

"We can't farm in a place like Long Island without crop protectants," said Joseph M. Gergela, executive director of Long Island Farm Bureau. "Let's do it smart. Let's not be hasty." He said state officials need to use science to determine if a substance is dangerous and if economically viable substitutes are available.

Underground aquifers provide Long Island's nearly 2.8 million residents with water for drinking, irrigation, industrial, agricultural and other uses. The sandy soils do little to filter out contaminants.

Since 1997, 117 pesticide-related chemicals have been detected in the aquifers, according to the draft plan. Thirty percent of all dry pesticides and 14 percent of all wet pesticides used in the state are applied on Long Island, according to the plan.

The DEC's proposal does nothing to protect the public, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "It's a plan designed to continue pesticide use in full force," she said.

Public comment will be accepted for 90 days, after which the DEC will decide whether the plan should be modified. The plan can be found at www.dec.ny.gov.Public comments are accepted until April 30 by fax at 518-402-9024, email at LongIslandStrategy@gw.dec.state.ny.us or mail to Scott Menrathcq, NYS DEC, Division of Materials Management, 625 Broadway, Albany, N.Y. 12233-7254.

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