Human exposure to pathogens can cause illness, most often gastroenteritis, but also potentially more serious diseases such as salmonellosis and hepatitis A. Exposure to pathogens can occur either by direct contact with, or ingestion of, contaminated waters by bathers or by eating raw or partially cooked shellfish harvested from contaminated waters. Indications of pathogen contamination have resulted in closed beaches and shellfishing areas, hurting the economy of the region and damaging public perception of the quality of the Sound and its resources.
Pathogen contamination regularly causes a number of beach closures around the Sound.
Many productive shellfish beds are also closed due to pathogen contamination.
Pathogens in Long Island Sound originate from untreated or inadequately treated human sewage and wild and domestic animal wastes. They enter the Sound from point and nonpoint discharges.
On an annual average basis, the estimated percent of fecal coliforms (an indicator of pathogen contamination) discharged into Long Island Sound from different sources are:
However, short-term discharges that are small on an average annual basis, such as discharges from vessels, can be significant sources in localized areas.
In New York state, rainfall causing combined sewer overflows and stormwater runoff was the primary cause of beach closures during the 1986 to 1990 review period. In Connecticut during that period, sewage treatment plant malfunctions were the primary cause of beach closures.
In both Connecticut and New York, the primary cause of shellfish bed closures varied from harbor to harbor but appeared to be primarily caused by nonpoint source pollution, especially from stormwater runoff. In harbors where detailed case studies were conducted, stormwater runoff, failing septic systems, and boats and marinas appeared to contribute to pathogen-related closures. Sewage treatment malfunctions may also have been significant on a local basis. Some of these closures are administrative or precautionary closures, while others are based on ambient data.
The Management Conference recommends that management actions be taken to control the major sources of pathogens and that site- specific management plans for each harbor, embayment, or discrete shellfish bed area be developed and implemented. This can be best accomplished by directing priority attention at four source control categories in the following order: combined sewer overflows, nonpoint source runoff, sewage treatment plant malfunctions, and vessel discharges. Those and other sources of pathogens should be identified by conducting site-specific surveys leading to better control of local sources of pathogens.
With reductions in the major sources of pathogens that cause water quality or health-related problems in the Sound, existing shellfish beds and bathing beaches will be further protected and, where feasible, impaired bathing beaches and shellfish beds will be opened. This will help ensure protection of public health while minimizing negative effects on the regional economy caused by bathing beach and shellfish bed closures.
Successful implementation of this plan is contingent upon the states receiving, at a minimum, level funding for existing programs associated with pathogen assessment and control.
Two significant program enhancements have already been funded. A $100,000 pilot program was initiated in New York to use enforceable instruments to control and manage stormwater. Connecticut and New York have received $120,000 and $1 million, respectively, in Clean Vessel Act grants to install vessel sewage pumpout facilities in Long Island Sound and other coastal waters.
New funding of $150,000 per year per state is needed to implement surveys for sources of pathogens and develop site-specific management actions.
The cost of implementing long-term combined sewer overflow abatement programs is estimated to cost $243 million in Connecticut and $1.5 billion in New York. Adequate capitalization of the State Revolving Fund program in each state is required to fund these efforts.