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Mount Sinai South Nassau ‘Truth in Medicine’ Poll: Air Quality, Drinking Water are of Greatest Concern to Area Residents

Only 38 Percent of New York City Adults, 46 Percent of Long Island Adults Surveyed Say It Is Environmentally Healthy Where They Live

Posted: Dec. 28, 2023
Mount Sinai South Nassau ‘Truth in Medicine’ Poll: Air Quality, Drinking Water are of Greatest Concern to Area Residents

More than 50 percent of 600 residents surveyed consider the areas they live in environmentally unhealthy with only 38 percent of New York City adults and 46 percent of adults on Long Island satisfied with the environmental health of their areas, according to the latest Mount Sinai South Nassau Truth in Medicine Poll, sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union.

This gloomy outlook is sparked by the sentiment that the city and Long Island are concerned about poor air and water quality. The survey found that 89 percent of respondents worried about the safety of the air they breathe, and 91 percent of all respondents say they are very concerned or concerned about air pollution. When ranked against other environmental concerns, 45 percent of all respondents (49 percent in New York City and 36 percent on Long Island) put air pollution first. The next highest concern is water pollution at 11percent.

Adhi Sharma, MD, President at Mount Sinai South Nassau, agrees that there is good cause to be concerned about air quality and episodes of prolonged poor air quality.

“Research has shown that high levels of fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide can cause distress for people with heart or respiratory disease and put them at risk for other life-threatening diseases or illnesses,” said Dr. Sharma. “There is also increasing evidence s that exposure to air pollution, mainly fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, is associated with the development of metabolic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes mellitus, atherosclerosis, hypertension, stroke, and heart failure.”

In fact, 37of area adults surveyed reported they had experienced some sort of health concern during the spate of hazardous and poor air quality alerts in June caused by the smoke from the Canadian wildfires that blanketed the region.  Another 20 percent of respondents said that they experienced health complications that required a visit to their physicians for medical help.  This was most likely due to the fact that smoke from wildfires carry a specific type of health hazard called fine particulate matter. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these microscopic particles are more dangerous to human health compared with other types of air pollution because they can pass through the nose and lungs and make their way into the bloodstream, putting both heart and lung health at risk.

Respondents’ concern about the air quality in New York City is validated by the American Lung Society’s 2023 State of the Air Report, which ranked the New York metro area 12th worst for high ozone pollution days among 227 nationwide metro areas; 59th worst for 24-hour particle pollution among 223 U.S. metro and 71st worst for annual particle pollution among U.S. 200 metropolitan areas. The American Lung Association’s 2023 Annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution, and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period.

The report was based on findings from air quality monitoring stations, including five on Long Island, that showed Riverhead, Holtsville, East Northport, and Westbury exceeded the World Health Organization’s guidelines by nearly twice. Data from a station in Glen Cove showed that the area exceeded the WHO’s guidelines by 2 to 3 times.

Meanwhile, the American Lung Society’s 2022 State of the Air Report rated Suffolk County the worst county for ozone in the metro area (and in New York State) with 25 unhealthy days.

The official monitor of air quality in more than 400 cities in the U.S. is the Air Quality Index (AQI), which was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999. The Air Quality Index scale rates air quality on a scale from 0 to 500, with 0-50 being the safest; 51-100 acceptable; 101-150 a health risk for children, older adults, and people with heart disease and lung disease; 151-200 unsafe for anyone; 201-300 a serious health risk for everyone; 300 or greater is hazardous being the most dangerous.

When the air quality is compromised, Dr. Sharma says that there are actions people can take to protect themselves by following these steps recommended by the American Lung Association:

  1. Protect the air in your home. Keep doors, windows, and fireplace dampers shut. If you are driving, roll up the windows and set your ventilation system to “recirculate.” Studies have shown that the recirculate setting can cut pollution inside a car to 20 percent of the outside level.
  2. Keep an eye on symptoms. Higher levels of smoke in some areas can make breathing more difficult. If you are experiencing symptoms that concern you, contact your health care provider.
  3. Take extra precaution with children, minimizing the time they spend outdoors during poor air quality days.
  4. Ask for help. The American Lung Association’s Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA is staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists and is a free resource to answer any questions about the lungs, lung disease, and lung health, including how to protect yourself when the air quality is poor.

While air quality was the leading concern, respondents ranked water pollution ahead of their concerns for waste disposal, noise pollution and climate change. More than eight out of every 10 poll respondents expressed concern about water pollution and the safety of the water they drink. However, only 8 percent of New York City respondents put water pollution first, while 17 percent of Long Island residents say water pollution is their top concern.

“While the evidence is not undisputable, numerous epidemiological studies have associated exposure to specific per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) with a range of health diseases and complications, including liver disease, lipid and insulin dysregulation, kidney disease, adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes, and cancer,” said Aaron E. Glatt, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine and Hospital Epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau. “So certainly, regardless of where you live, we should be doing all that we can to reduce our exposure to these chemicals by using all-natural cleaning and personal care products as much as possible; drinking filtered water and improving our public water purification systems.”

According to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, more than 600,000 Long Islanders drink water that exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PFAS chemical standards. PFAS are highly toxic chemicals found in   found in some cleaning and personal care products, as well as nonstick s cookware and waterproofing and firefighting foams.

Long Island’s water comes from three major aquifers: the Lloyd Aquifer, the Magothy Aquifer, and the shallowest aquifer known as the Upper Glacial Aquifer.  The region’s water supply companies mostly draw water from the Magothy Aquifer, while private wells on individual properties are filled with water from the Upper Glacial Aquifer.  The system of aquifers supplies more than 400 million gallons a day of fresh water from more than 1,500 public supply wells to over 2.8 million people in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The aquifers’ source of water comes from rain and snowmelt that is filtered and purified by the Island’s sandy soil. Unfortunately, this natural purification system can be breached with contamination from several sources containing high levels of PFAS, such as pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, hazardous organic compounds from aging waste, illegal dumping and much more.

New York City respondents are not worried about the quality and safety of the water. According to the Environmental Working Group and other independent monitors of water quality, New York City’s drinking water is among the best in the nation. The City’s water is supplied from 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes spread across a nearly 2,000-square-mile watershed, which includes the Catskill/Delaware and Croton protected watersheds that together provide more than 1.3 billion gallons of water per day to more than 9 million New Yorkers.

The water is treated at 19 water treatment plants using a multi-barrier approach that includes filtration and disinfection to ensure that the City’s water meets or exceeds all federal and state drinking water quality standards. The water quality is constantly monitored by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which evaluates the water at more than 4,000 sites each month for a range of potential contaminants, including bacteria, chemicals, and metals.

While more than 70 percent of respondents agree that government agencies and public utilities are responsible for the effective regulation and operation of public water, Dr. Glatt says the public can have a meaningful impact on the quality and safety of their water by following these steps:

  • Do not pour chemicals into storm drains or on the ground (contact your town or City S.T.O.P Program for information on disposal locations).
  • Report individuals who pour chemicals into storm drains or on the ground.
  • Use fertilizers and pesticides only when needed and use sparingly.
  • Getting involved in protecting and conserving your community’s water supply.
  • Use proper back-flow prevention devices wherever underground sprinklers or aerosol chemical sprayers are used.
  • Remove or abandon aging underground heating oil tanks.
  • Instala water filtration system in your home.
  • Maintain your plumbing system; old pipes may contain lead.
  • Keep storm drains clear as storm water is a source of drinking water

“Like Mount Sinai South Nassau, we understand that a healthy and vibrant environment is a cornerstone of the quality of life that we enjoy,” said Linda Armyn, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Bethpage Federal Credit Union. “I strongly encourage the communities and customers we serve to make protecting and preserving our environment a top priority.”

This is Mount Sinai South Nassau’s 17th “Truth in Medicine” Poll and third of 2023. The poll seeks to evaluate public knowledge and sentiment toward key public health issues. Sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union and conducted by a national polling research firm, the poll aims to gather data about attitudes on key public health topics and helps spur education to improve public health. The poll was conducted from July 6 – 10, 2023, via both landlines and cell phones with 600 Long Island and New York City residents. Poll findings are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.

The “Truth in Medicine” Poll is a component of Mount Sinai South Nassau’s mission of improving education around critical public health issues. The poll was conducted by a nationally recognized, independent polling firm, LJR Custom Strategies, with offices in Washington, DC, and New Orleans. LJR has conducted more than 2,000 studies for a broad spectrum of health care, business, education, cultural, and political clients in nearly every state in the country and around the world.

Mount Sinai South Nassau began conducting the public health poll in January 2017. Previous polls have focused on mental health services, holiday stress, the HPV vaccine, legalization of recreational marijuana, supplements, antibiotic use and misuse, and screen time, among others. For more information about the polls, visit www.southnassau.org/sn/truth-in-medicine.

About Mount Sinai South Nassau
The Long Island flagship hospital of the Mount Sinai Health System, Mount Sinai South Nassau is designated a Magnet® hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for outstanding nursing care. Mount Sinai South Nassau is one of the region’s largest hospitals, with 455 beds, more than 900 physicians and 3,500 employees. Located in Oceanside, New York, the hospital is an acute-care, not-for-profit teaching hospital that provides state-of-the-art care in cardiac, oncologic, orthopedic, bariatric, pain management, mental health, and emergency services.

In addition to its extensive outpatient specialty centers, Mount Sinai South Nassau provides emergency and elective angioplasty, and offers Novalis Tx™ and Gamma Knife® radiosurgery technologies. Mount Sinai South Nassau operates the only Trauma Center on the South Shore of Nassau County verified by the American College of Surgeons as well as Long Island’s only free-standing, 9-1-1 receiving Emergency Department in Long Beach. Mount Sinai South Nassau also is a designated Stroke Center by the New York State Department of Health and Comprehensive Community Cancer Center by the American College of Surgeons; is an accredited center of the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Association and Quality Improvement Program; and an Infectious Diseases Society of America Antimicrobial Stewardship Center of Excellence.

Accredited by The Joint Commission, an independent peer review organization that conducts rigorous and unannounced, on-site surveys of the hospital, Mount Sinai South Nassau holds Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval™ Certification in eight specialties: Heart Failure, Primary Stroke Center, Joint Replacement Hip, Joint Replacement Knee, Bariatric Surgery, Wound Care, End-Stage Renal Disease and Perinatal Care. For more information, visit https://www.southnassau.org/sn.