The Department of Environmental Conservations’ mission is to preserve, improve, and protect New York’s natural resources and the environment. DEC works closely to support our mission by working with a wide variety of partners to help protect residents’ health, and build stronger communities.
The close connection between environment and public health is not new. Ancient civilizations built sophisticated sewer systems to remove stormwater from streets. They also recognized the importance of keeping potential pollutants (such as wastewater) away from water sources. But it wasn’t until 1854, when a London doctor found the source of the cholera epidemic at a Soho well, that wastewater treatment started to be developed to protect public safety.
Today, the DECs Division of Water monitors and sets water quality standards. These standards are based on waterbodies highest and best use. Water quality is protected by requiring permits to limit pollutants being released. New York State is making unprecedented investments to support municipalities in their efforts to replace and repair aging infrastructure, address water quality impairments and protect drinking water sources.
It is vital to protect waters that are used for recreational and wildlife purposes as well as those that are home to many species of animals. DEC uses cutting-edge research and technology to study and monitor certain types and species of algae that can rapidly grow and form blooms. While most blooms are harmless, certain algal species, known as harmful algae blooms (HABs), may produce toxins that can be harmful to people and animals. DECs are responsible for controlling the release of excess nutrients to waterbodies in order to reduce HABs.
Air pollution can also cause harm to the environment and human health. Hot summer temperatures can cause the formation fine particulate matter and ozone (O3), which are two major pollutants of concern for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases. The DECs Division of Air monitors the air quality in the state, limits facilities’ potential to emit polluting substances through permitting programs, and works with mobile sources and architectural coatings like paints to reduce or eliminate pollution. To ensure compliance, emissions testing are performed and air pollution control devices are regularly checked to ensure that they are working properly.
Exposition to pollutants like mercury, acid rain, and PCBs can also affect wildlife and fish. Bioaccumulation of contaminants can lead to illness in humans as the toxins travel up through the food chain. DEC monitors levels of pollutant to ensure they don’t exceed acceptable standards. DEC works closely with agency partners like the New York State Department of Health to issue consumption advisories to assist the public in making better choices about what fish and how many to eat from which waterbody.
Our water and air divisions focus on pollution prevention. The DECs Division of Environmental Remediation focuses on the cleanup of hazardous contamination from New York’s industrial legacy and emerging contaminant threats. The focus is on protecting the contamination from migration and preventing the contamination of soil and groundwater. DEC, DOH, and local partners work together to identify and remediate exposure pathways.
DEC’s Division of Materials Management works to ensure that chemicals and wastes are not harmful to the environment in the future. DMM works to prevent environmental pollution by regulating solid waste management, pesticide use, and encouraging reductions, reuse, and recycling. DECs engineers and geologists work to reduce the potential for contamination and the potential for people to be affected by the design and construction.
Although not all DEC units are listed here, everyone at DEC has worked towards the same goal since 1970: to preserve and protect our natural resources so that future generations will live in a cleaner, more sustainable New York. We look forward to continuing to make New York a cleaner, greener place and reap the health benefits for all New Yorkers.
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