A recent article titled, “Toxic chemical found in Stony Brook Hospital sewage could damage Port Jeff Harbor” has been removed from The Statesman website after several inaccuracies were brought to light.
The author of the article originally reported that a radioactive chemical compound, Iodine-131, was seeping into the harbor through Stony Brook University Hospital’s sewage, causing potential harm to marine life. The idea for this story came from concerns raised at the Sept. 10 University Senate meeting by School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) Professor Malcolm Bowman.
Upon further review, it appears that claims made by Bowman and Larry Swanson, another SoMAS professor, were taken out of context by the author. The author also misrepresented the details of a report cited in the story.
“There is no data about Iodine-131 in Port Jeff Harbor water,” Swanson and Bowman wrote in an email. In the article, Bowman stated that some toxins “compromise the health of fish and shellfish in the harbor and makes them unfit to be eaten by humans.” According to Bowman, the reporter assumed he was referring to Iodine-131, making a false attribution.
“I did NOT find any evidence in my work in New York and Washington, DC that I-131 in sewage effluent posed a problem for fish, shellfish or humans,” Paula Rose, the author of the report cited in the article, wrote in an email.
“Further, the presence of medically-derived I-131 in sewage effluent is NOT related to high levels of bacteria and beach closures,” she continued.
The original story suggested that SBU Hospital’s sewage was not being sufficiently treated before being discharged into the harbor. The author used a quote from Bowman to back up this claim. The author also pointed to a 2011 report from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment as evidence of poor water quality in the harbor.
“The fact is that [SBU Hospital] sewage, along with main campus’ sewage, receives advanced tertiary treatment at the campus Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) operated by Suffolk County,” Swanson and Bowman wrote. “This is the highest level of treatment at conventional STP facilities. The rating [from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment’s report] did not have any connection to radioiodine, or any measurement data, nor did the report cover the existence of radioisotopes in wastewater. However, the report card did show that the STP in Stony Brook had among the lowest frequency of violations among Long Island STPs.”