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Lawmaker Seeks New Way To Fight Harmful Algal Blooms

New York needs to make it easier to use some chemicals to limit harmful algal blooms in the eyes of one state legislator.

Assemblywoman Dana Levenberg, D-Ossining, has introduced legislation (A/9287) to amend the state Environmental Conservation law to establish nutrient inactivate applicator permits. Levenberg’s permits are aimed at quicker response to harmful algal blooms on New York’s lakes and waterways.

Many states, Levenberg said, allow the application of nutrient inactivants like aluminum sulfate to decrease harmful algal blooms, but they are classified as pesticides by the state DEC because, in the DEC’s view, the materials kill or inhibit phosphorus growth. But the DEC can’t review the use of nutrient inactivants as a pesticide because the federal EPA doesn’t consider the materials as a pesticide – creating a situation where the materials can’t be used in New York.

“By reducing the excessive phosphorus levels that contribute to HABs, nutrient inactivants are theoretically inhibiting their growth and therefore the Department of Environmental interprets nutrient inactivants as being pesticides under NYS law,” Levenberg wrote. “However, for pesticides to be used in New York state, they must be registered

as such by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but because the EPA does not recognize nutrient inactivants as pesticides. Therefore, for many years the DEC has been unwilling to allow use of nutrient inactivants in New York state.”

The U.S. EPA does not classify the materials as pesticides, According to the EPA, alum, ferric salts, or clay can be applied to the water body as coagulants that cause cyanobacteria to settle down away from the top layer of the water body. When applied to water, alum forms an aluminum hydroxide precipitate called a floc. As the floc settles, it removes phosphorus and particulates (including algae) from the water column. The floc settles on the sediment. The EPA notes nutrient inactivants are more effective on well-buffered hard water. Buffering soft water lakes with either sodium aluminate or carbonate type salts isn’t recommended.

“This legislation would exclude nutrient inactivants from the definition of pesticides in our Environmental Conservation Law so they would be permitted under a special type of SPDES permit and be recognized as they

are by the U.S. EPA,” Levenberg wrote in her legislative justification.

Princeton Hydro, a company the county has used in the past as a third-party monitor for herbicide treatments on Chautauqua Lake, noted the use of chemical treatments on Lake Latonka in Mercer, Pa. Princeton Hydro also recommended its use in Findley Lake as part of a 2021 study, but estimated the cost to be between $120,000 and $170,000 if permits could be secured from the DEC.

New York state currently has a moratorium on the utilization of aluminum based nutrient inactivation projects but has evaluated this management technique during pilot projects in 2018. As such, regulatory restrictions on these

applications may change in the future,” Princeton Hydro’s evaluation of Findley Lake states.

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