By Jano Tantongco
The amount of Nitrogen being dumped into Northport Harbor has dropped 80 percent as a result of last year’s upgrades to the Northport Sewer Treatment Plant.
“Northport is truly a success story… we started to see that there were no red tide occurrences in 2013,” Suffolk Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) said during a water quality seminar at the Northport Yacht Club on Feb. 4.
In 2013, Spencer collaborated with state Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) to help secure $1.5 million in state grants, in addition to $3.184 million from the county, to help fund the upgrading of the Northport plant.
The upgrade, which cost $9.2 million, was completed last year, according to Northport Village Mayor George Doll.
Considering the price of the upgrade, he joked that he would rather pay the Environmental Protection Agency fine of $37,000 a day for excessive nitrogen levels.
“There was some doubt that the technology was going to do anything,” Doll said with a laugh.
But, he continued, “Thankfully, it worked. After a year of working with the plant and fine tuning, we are consistently” in the range of around 4 pounds of nitrogen per day.
Before the upgrade was complete, Doll said, 20 pounds of nitrogen per day were being dumped into Northport Harbor.
Christopher Gobler, PhD, professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University, explained how high nitrogen levels can be harmful to the ecosystem.
He said that one of the major issues emerging in the last decade has been harmful algal blooms, aka red tides, caused by the bacteria Alexandrium. This bacteria produces saxitoxin, which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans.
Ed Carr, director of maritime services for the Town of Huntington, continued to say that the more Alexandrium produces more toxins in the presence of higher nitrogen levels.
“It’s like algae on crack,” Carr said. “It replicates several times than what it should be.”
Speaking about Northport and Huntington harbors, Carr said there has been a decrease of around 1 million Alexandrium cells per liter in 2008, to about 10,000 cells per liter in “recent years.”
“That’s how much ‘fertilizer’ was being dumped into the harbor,” he said.