Does Southampton Have a Pollution Problem?

The alarming state of algae in Agawam Lake

Southampton trail
A trail in Southampton, New York.
Americasroof, CC BY-SA 3.0

When the subject of the Hamptons comes up, the qualities that come to mind generally involve luxury real estate and acclaimed museums. It’s not hard to see why they’re a regular destination for so many, whether they’re passing through or looking for a place to settle down. But there’s a growing concern among many environmental advocates that pollution might pose a threat to the region’s residents and ecology.

At Air Mail, Anisah Abdullah explored the disparity between Southampton’s idyllic image and the growing threat of cyanobacteria faced by the region.

Cyanobacteria can pose a host of dangers to bodies of water and the towns and cities that rely upon them. In 2014, for instance, an algae bloom in Lake Erie caused the tap water used by 500,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio to become toxic. And, as Abdullah reports, something similar is taking place in Southampton’s Agawam Lake.

As the article points out, this isn’t a new problem — officials first grew alarmed over algae blooms in 2003 — and a number of steps to address the issue have been taken. Still, the problems persist. Stony Brook University’s Christopher Gobler summarized the extent of the problem. “On Long Island, there is no freshwater body that has had blooms as intense or consistent as Lake Agawam,” he said.

The persistence of the issue, Abdullah notes, can be chalked up to two factors. One is the fact that roughly three-quarters of the homes in Southampton use septic systems; the other is the quantity of chemicals used to take care of many of the town’s lawns. Taken together, it’s a recipe for algae to thrive — and the issue won’t go away until an abundance of sediment in the lake is removed.

The lack of infrastructure in place offers even more challenges. The lake’s pollution has been in the works for a long time, and cleaning it up can’t be accomplished overnight.

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