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Nitrogen removal improves at LI plants, environmental group says

Long Island sewage plants got a top grade

Long Island sewage plants got a top grade for removing nitrogen that negatively affects Long Island Sound. This is Fishers Island on the east end of the Sound on Aug. 8, 2012. Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Island's sewage-treatment plants are well on their way toward reducing the amount of harmful nitrogen they emit into the Long Island Sound -- a key first step toward repairing the waterway, an environmental group announced Monday.

Save the Sound, with offices in Mamaroneck and New Haven, Conn., issued a report card rating Long Island, New York City, Westchester County and Connecticut on whether sewage-treatment plants in their areas are on track toward reducing the amount of nitrogen in their effluent by 58.5 percent by this year.

The group gave an "A" to Nassau, Suffolk and Connecticut, while New York City and Westchester, which received extensions that give them until 2017 to meet the reduction requirement, got "B" grades.

The Sound has been affected by harmful algal blooms, which thrive on high levels of nitrogen and choke out vital oxygen, said Curt Johnson, executive director of Save the Sound.

"If we could largely heal this problem, we would see fish populations and crab populations and all the creatures we care about in the Sound rebounding really dramatically," he said.

Sewage-treatment plants, large and small, began construction projects in order to meet the deadline, set in a 2003 agreement between New York, Connecticut and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The small plant in Northport is undergoing a $9 million renovation, while the Village of Great Neck shut down its sewage plant and now sends its sewage to the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District, which last year completed a $60 million expansion and upgrade of its plant.

That plant has been able to reduce its nitrogen output by more than 80 percent as a result of the project, district superintendent Christopher Murphy said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said she felt the nitrogen reduction effort has been successful.

"It's been behind-the-scenes work, but it's successful," she said. "For the Long Island Sound, it's a great step in the right direction."

Johnson said the report card was just the "first step" toward solving the problem of excess nitrogen in the sound, which also comes from septic systems and cesspools, fertilizers and other sources.

"This report card is very positive," he said. "But other sources of nitrogen on the island that are really important are all those septic systems."

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