What exactly is in Orient’s drinking water?

The most important question we should ask ourselves is: What is in my own water? If you don’t know, you might want to have your water tested. Your neighbor could have very high quality water while your house across the street does not. In most cases, If there are contaminants, simple charcoal filters can remove many of them.


You’ve probably heard a lot about nitrates. These are natural compounds essential for plant growth. But excess nitrates can harm marine life and even affect human health.

There are significant indications that nitrate levels have been rising on the East End. Nitrates are more difficult to remove that other contaminants. It’s important to know how they get into our water because that’s the key to managing nitrate levels.

Some of the nitrates in our groundwater come from fertilizers farmers and homeowners have put on their crops and lawns over the centuries. The residue from these applications sinks into the ground and eventually the groundwater.

Nitrates are also present in urine. Current research suggests that the main source of nitrates in our drinking water is from wastewater flowing out of our cesspools and septic systems. We are a major source of the problem – and the more of us there are on a given area of land, the bigger the problem.

But just how bad are nitrates for humans? It’s important to put this in perspective. Read what the Suffolk County Water Authority says in their annual report, every year:

“Water quality standards are established based upon the known health risks of the contaminant involved. One such contaminant, an inorganic chemical known as nitrate, may be of interest to you. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for this substance is 10 ppm (parts per million.) This means that 10 ppm is the highest level of nitrate allowed in drinking water. However, cured luncheon meats or hot dogs may contain up to 500 ppm of nitrates and vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, beets and carrots also have significant nitrate concentrations. Drinking water normally contributes only a very small percentage of a person’s total nitrate intake.

“Nitrates in drinking water at levels above 10 ppm can be a health risk for infants less than six months of age. High nitrate levels in drinking water can cause blue-baby syndrome … However, it should be noted that there has never been a recorded case of blue-baby syndrome in Suffolk County.”

Another important way to keep this in perspective is to know that the vast majority of private wells in Suffolk County — including Orient — do not contain nitrates even close to the maximum level.

Here’s the Suffolk County Department of Health report on Orient:

“A review of SCDOH private well testing data for Orient shows 627 water samples collected and analyzed from 1997 through 2009. The data indicate that 99 samples, or 15.7% exceed the nitrate MCL of 10 mg.” (Note: an MCL of 10 mg is the same as 10 ppm measure used by SCWA.)

What does this tell us? The good news is that 84% of those samples had nitrate levels that are within the accepted level. The bad news is that some households and businesses have water that does not meet the minimum health standards without further treatment. And as usage grows, this is likely to get worse, unless we take action.

What about other contaminants?

SCDOH’s report on the quality of Orient water goes on to say that small, but measurable amounts of other contaminants such as aldicarb (Temik), a gasoline additive MTBE and degraded herbicide compounds “appeared in”, “were found in” or were “detected in” samples of Orient water. Importantly, these can be usually removed from household water with a simple and inexpensive charcoal filter.

We have a choice.

There are many indications that the relative safety and quality of water all across Long Island may not continue. Nitrate levels have been rising and expanded use of water will further strain existing systems. How should Orient’s future needs for clean, safe water be met? Should we link our future to the aquifers under the main body of Long Island or limit our sources to own own aquifer, which may not be perfect, but can be more easily protected and restored.

We have a choice. We can let others decide how we should receive our water and manage our waste. Or we can educate ourselves and be a part of those decisions.

O R I E N T  I S S U E S

Give us your input

What do you think should be on OA’s Watch List, and how do you think we can help?

Email info@orientassociation.org with your suggestions.